On the counter at the retail place was a picture of a family and a description of a crisis they were going through. If you wanted to help them out financially you could put your contribution in one of two jars—either the one marked Alabama or Auburn. Let me say at this point that I grew up in the state and am part of a “divided” family, so I understand the Alabama/Auburn rivalry and enjoy it as much as anyone else. But like anything else, there are some boundaries.
Think about the message being conveyed by the two jars: in order to help out, we as a caring community must divide up by choosing which school gets “the glory” for our contribution. Instead of it just being people sharing with other people, we have to pick sides and fragment. Seriously? Why not just have a jar for whites and one for blacks? Or, how about a jar for old people and one for young people? Or left-handed and right-handed? Any of these make as much sense.
But you don’t understand, they’re just doing this to get more people involved so the family will receive more help.
I do understand this and that’s actually my point. What’s being said with this is that the means justifies the end. But does it? The reality is that what we’re doing through this approach is teaching people that it’s not enough that someone else is suffering and needs our help—we must attach a game to their plight so we have a “real” reason to get excited and involved. We’ve trivialized the family’s pain by making it the occasion for a contest for ourselves. Picture yourself as the person in need and ask yourself how you would feel if people made a game out of your plight.
But still, isn’t it better to have more given for the wrong reason than none being given?
In the short term I understand this, but I think we need to take the long view. If we really want to build a better world then the best reason for giving will always be to help another human being. Parents, if we’ll ignore our culture’s urge to make giving entertaining through games, contests, or a social media event (remember the ice bucket challenge?); we can teach our children the beauty and simplicity of sharing what we have. At the same time we’ll instill in them true compassion for others as opposed to giving to others in order to fit in or be trendy. In other words, when we make giving less about us and more about others, we’ll be headed in a healthy direction.
You may have never thought about giving in these terms but there’s nothing new about it. Jesus warned against polluting our giving with self-promotion in Matthew 6:2ff. The early disciples didn’t have bake sales, car washes, or pancake breakfasts when there was a financial need to be met. They simply gave because the need was justified and they had the means to do so. This made giving a matter of the heart—an idea that hasn’t been improved upon.