How do you practice charity without turning into a Rotarian?
No, strike that. Because the word “charity” may be the problem, in that it triggers so many kneejerk reactions to what we think it means.
So, try again. How do we manage to be spontaneously open and giving as a part of our everyday life without behaving like a TV personality you want to punch or some sanctimonious trustafarian from the development charity industry?
Now we’re getting closer to the roots of the problem.
I’m sure you and I both like to think of ourselves as nice, giving people. Yet we keep reading reports in the “serious” press that people are giving less to charity than they used to. Even when times were harder most people on average incomes gave more, while the Victorian practice of entrepreneurs making their fortune then devoting their time to endowments and “good works” like Andrew Carnegie (or Henry Noble if you want a Manx example) – well, what happened to that?
OK, as 90% of the “factual” matter in “serious” press reports comes from time-saving PR blurbs written by the shadiest charities (in order to shame us into further subsidising them) we can safely discount it. In truth, the public probably regards the staff of major charities as freeloading hypocrites who you’d trust about as far as some random drunk who taps you for a fiver.
Some of that belief may be wilful self-deception, but most of it is quite fair. The charity industry stinks as much as the banking and accounting industry with whom it trades most staff. It even uses the same PR spin merchants as the worst dictators.
At a more basic level, once you’ve seen some “pillar of the community” lying in a bath of baked beans “fur charidee” how do you ever take the concept seriously again? You know that the other 364 days of the year this shameless scrote pulls every scam going to fill his pockets and avoid shelling out to anyone.
So, what to do?
Until it inevitably developed Rotarianism, one hopeful idea was Danny Wallace’s “Random Acts of Kindness” phenomena. RAK devotees practiced “Good Fridays” and “Happy Mondays” on which they – yes – set out to be spontaneously and randomly kind to strangers.
The RAK ethos appeals to me hugely. The lack of “depth” or “logic”, the happy-go-lucky acceptance that we are – all of us – a little clueless and will probably fall flat on our faces but wouldn’t it at least be a good idea to spread a little sweetness and light around, reminds me of orphaned Woodstock era books I rescued in adolescent charity shop forays. For example, Richard Neville’s Play Power and Abbie Hoffman’s Revolution For The Hell Of It.
If this isn’t too oxymoronic, where RAK falls down is that it isn’t random enough, and to overcome that what you need is a tighter format. Setting aside particular times to be altruistic is a start. The bigger problem is how to bypass learned and generally unconscious concepts of the deserving subject.
In particular, the brief era when organised charity chose the subject through a process that involved objective study informed by political and economic analysis is over. We are rapidly reverting to an older era when charity was dispensed by the church to the “deserving poor”, and that is a massive problem.
I think surrealism and 1960’s concepts of aleatoric (chance) art might have an answer. The surrealists, more than any other movement in history, developed art games with absolutely binding rules in order to increase chance, bizarre and beautiful connections or put the artist into unexpected places. On similar lines, you could, for example, decide to be kind to the 10th person you met on a chosen day, or the one you pass in the street at exactly 11 AM. The times, numbers and other deciding factors have absolutely no significance, except to prevent you making a so-called rational choice which is almost inevitably based on an unconscious prejudice.
In following them, you should start to find yourself wondering (often) why you haven’t noticed a need or a type of person before. Hopefully, you should also fall into the habit of automatically being nice to more people more of the time, and not just selected people at authorised times – after which you go back to being asleep to the world.
But mostly you just enjoy yourself, and spread that around.