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Haiti, Giving, and the Trouble With Sound Bytes

by glen

downtown port-au-prince after the haiti earthquake
Downtown Port-Au-Prince after the massive earthquake in Haiti.

My friends Carolyn and Doug are incredible people, and I don’t think I’ve ever looked up to two people more. Doug and Carolyn work in a church, and if you’ve ever worked in a church you know that all kinds of needy people use (and abuse) the church with handout requests. Droves of people come to the church with a sob story of some kind, and literally expect the church to give them money. Here’s an example:

A man came into the church and said that he needed money for gas to go home to care for his wife in Texas. So, the pastor offered to personally go and fill up his car for him and buy him any supplies needed for the trip. (Quite generous, if you ask me.) The guy flat-out refused. He said that he just needed the money, and left hurling empty threats at the people who “wouldn’t help him”.

There are thousands of examples just like this, and the storyline is always the same. They have a need, but it usually just comes down to wanting cash. They take advantage of the Church’s helpfulness and reputation of helping the needy.

So, it naturally came as quite a surprise to Carolyn when an older woman came in with her grandson, asking if there was any work around the church that she could do to get a place to live for her and her grandson.

When homeless people come to the church, they typically never ask for work, and they almost always ask for just money.

So instead of just giving the homeless woman money to pay her bill–which they did–Carolyn offered her own house for the two to live while they got back on their feet. She literally welcomed two complete strangers into her home to live for a few months.

Now contrast that with something that happened yesterday.

A man claimed the Haiti earthquakes were due to the people being “cursed” because of a “pact made with the devil”:

Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it’s a deal.

Aside from how ridiculous and downright crazy Pat Robertson sounded, his comments did absolutely nothing except catapult his own name. In a time when a whole country of people are looking for relief, Pat condemned them. (It’s estimated the death toll could rise to 500,00, half of Haiti’s population.)

I don’t think I would mind Pat’s stupidity if he actually did something about the problem. Contrast that with someone like Carolyn. Carolyn is doing what Pat should be doing as a “religous” thought leader: helping people. Not making stupid-ass prophecies and taking a holier-than-thou stance.

Statements like Robertson’s (and others) really pissed me off yesterday. I can’t think of anything much worse than someone using catastrophes as a way to generate attention.

We should think long and hard about Haiti. What if the roles were reversed? The best part about being rich (compared to the rest of the world) is that we are in a position to give. To help others that can’t help themselves. (Apparently people were miffed at the White House’s website redirecting people to organizations like the Red Cross.)

Even if you don’t have any money, you can still give. It cost Doug and Carolyn $0 to open up her home to complete strangers. Love costs nothing.

You don’t have to fly to Haiti to help with relief efforts. You don’t have to donate large amounts of money. You just have to be open to giving, whether that’s your time or money.

But we shouldn’t stand by and do the worst thing of all: Nothing.

There are plenty of ways to help Haiti financially, and a great place to start is the Red Cross.

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Ok, rant = over :) We’ll be bringing you your regularly scheduled programming shortly…

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

pauladennis January 14, 2010 at 11:45 am

I too found myself incredibly angry about people cashing in on the disaster in Haiti. I saw a number of tweets that essentially said “if you buy my product, or sign up for my class I'll donate the money to charity”

Why not just donate money directly without these conditions attached to it? Why do I have to buy your product to donate. Why should I make you look good by buying your product so you can say you donated X number of dollars.

It all just got me so angry I unfollowed anyone who set up that scam. I know their hearts might be in the right place, but why put all those conditions on helping another human being.

Thank you, now my rant is over.

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Glen Stansberry January 14, 2010 at 11:49 am

Yeah, those anger me too. It's funny, because I initially thought I'd do something similar: give away a free ebook to anyone who donated to the Red Cross.

Then I thought a little more and really questioned a) my own motives and b) whether the incentive was a good thing.

I mean, I want more people to donate, but the problem is that if they're seeing pictures of awful tragedy and they're not moved to help based on those, then I don't think material incentives are a good option.

Anyway, just my two cents. Like you said, I know lots of people had their heart in the right place, it was all a little too self-serving for my taste.

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Oleg Mokhov January 14, 2010 at 1:59 pm

It's definitely a gray moral area. I suppose it all depends on something that isn't tangible: the morals and intentions of the businesses making these offers.

I agree that human suffering should be enough for those wanting to help. But it isn't for some. But they could still help out in some way if they got something they want out of it. Like a product they were looking at.

Like, those types of people wouldn't have donated or helped otherwise. But if they were going to buy an ebook or iPod or whatever other product anyway, they could do it through this method and indirectly help a cause.

Some extra money doesn't hurt, ESPECIALLY if, as mentioned above, the morals and intentions of the business are in the right place (and it's not a easy thing to gauge).

Oleg

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Oleg Mokhov January 14, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Forgot to add: I agree that it's very easy for a business to do something like this in bad taste, and end up doing more harm than good (turning off people from them).

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Glen Stansberry January 14, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Great thoughts Oleg.

I agree, there really isn't a good answer to this, but I think that yeah, it's easy for this type of promotion to do more bad than good.

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JPLeGrand January 15, 2010 at 11:38 am

There are about 3 million people living in Haiti. So far, the highest count I've heard is around 100,000. 3.3% of the population is enormous and we can't imagine how we'd react if a catastrophe killed 1 million people in America. (Actually according to observers we can't even imagine what's going on in Haiti right now).

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cynthiamorris January 15, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I appreciate your well-articulated and moving rant. I respect those who aren't afraid to speak up.
Thanks for this.

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small home January 16, 2010 at 2:28 am

I am so deeply saddened with what had happened! Let is extend our help top the people of Haiti. Let us help whatever way we can.

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Goofy1 January 17, 2010 at 9:00 am

Ok great discussion however the population of the country of Haiti is about 9,800,000. The population of the capital, Port-au-Prince is about 2,500,000 -3,000,000. Still the situation is horrific at an estimate of 500,000 dead. We visited the country in 1989 and I found it facinating and beautiful and yet a complete disaster then.

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AgentEd January 24, 2010 at 7:02 pm

I am not a supporter if Pat Robertson, or the many statements that have been attributed to him over the years. However, he has an actual relief organization called Operation Blessing that specializes in disaster relief around the world including Haiti. As a matter of fact they have been they well before the earthquake ever struck.

I have been a supporter of Operation Blessing for the relief work they have been doing for decades.

Just an FYI.

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FekketCantenel January 29, 2010 at 1:38 pm

I'm glad someone else pointed this out. When I read “I don’t think I would mind Pat’s stupidity if he actually did something about the problem”, I was blown away. The complete lack of research completely floored me. Next time I pare down my Google Reader, I'm unsubscribing from this site's RSS feed just for this.

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Glen Stansberry January 29, 2010 at 4:00 pm

AgentEd had a great point, and I did not know that about Operation Blessing. I should have researched that further.

But maybe that further proves my point.

NONE of the stories I read about Pat's remark remotely hinted that Pat had a relief observation. Pat chose to use his time in the spotlight making a ridiculous accusations instead of saying “here's how you can help the people of Haiti” and talking about Operation Blessing.

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travesti May 8, 2010 at 1:24 am

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