March 25, 2008, Category: Rants

I feel helpless, so I don’t help

I work with good people. At Microsoft I worked with fun people, but most of the focus was on the fun. Many of my current coworkers actively promote and participate in community building activities (blood drives, charities, volunteer requests…). Perhaps it’s because a different type of person works in public education than in a corporate environment. Anyways, I bring this up because I just received an email from a committee here at work asking for food donations for the local food bank. Next week is spring break which means that a lot of kids who get free lunch at school will go hungry.

The email was that simple but put an instant lump in my throat and gloss on my eyes. This type of request has a bigger effect on me than the old Sally Struthers type commercials. Maybe because I don’t feel like horrific images are being used to try and leverage my emotions. Maybe because it’s local and feels more real. Or maybe because I tend to avoid reality when it comes to hunger, disease, death, and pain in the world because I feel helpless to change it. I know it’s a pathetic excuse, but it’s incredibly discouraging to hear about terrible things and feel like nothing I could do would matter.

I know my attitude is toxic. It’s what keeps our world stuck. Without a mass change in attitude there will never be mass change in reality. It’s like voting. People who don’t feel like their vote matters don’t vote. There are excellent politicians who will never win because we don’t want to waste a vote on someone we don’t think has a chance, if we vote at all. So we pick from the forerunners: somebody who has a chance so our vote will matter. It would be interesting if we could strip out the social and psychological factors and vote for who we felt would best lead our country. But in this too, a feeling of helpless prevents real change…and I digress.

Because I feel helpless I numb myself from world issues. I get emails from celebrities wanting my money to fight hunger and a part of me mocks them. I read about a billionaire who donates a few million to a charity and something about it makes me a little sick. I know they are doing good in the world but it rubs me wrong. Superstars who travel the world and ask for my support from their mansions…I can’t completely cheer for them. But I know part of that is just me making excuses and I need to change my attitude.

When I get an email from coworkers who have organized themselves to collect food for a local food bank, I’m deeply touched and inspired. Honestly, donating a couple cans of food is no sacrifice and hardly worth even calling charitable, but it’s a step towards change. I know people who live meager and donate large sums of time and money and I want to get to that point. Greed, self absorption, and, most of all, feeling helpless stop me.

The older I get the better I am with being charitable. Contributing where I can see I’m making a difference helps. The irony is that the real payoff isn’t what little good I may do, it’s the change in attitude I feel by doing it. I see myself becoming a little less introverted and more socially aware. If I keep this up, maybe someday I’ll become like the kind of people I admire. But I have a long ways to go and readily admit that I’m part of the problem. Because I’m a bit narcissistic and need to feel important, I have to constantly remind myself that my actions, for good or bad, do make a difference. And to those of you out there who do so much, I thank you. You inspire me and are helping me to change.

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4 thoughts on “I feel helpless, so I don’t help

  • By Tracy - Reply

    For me I can only bring myself to personally help. I think when I see a bin to put food in or a chance to write a check for United Way I really that I’m supporting a system of help rather than actually helping anyone myself. To write a check to an agency when I know someone who needs help with the basics in life is criminal. Faceless victims and faceless heroism eroded the care I had to help people to begin with.

  • By Grandma - Reply

    It is wonderful to work with people who are generous and giving. I was blessed to work with good people like that for 25 years … that’s what kept me there so long.

  • By Grandma - Reply

    Tracy, I don’t know if you are aware of the program we have in the LDS church … We fast the 1st Sunday of each month and give a donation to the church that is used to help first the people in our ward area (both those who are members and those who aren’t) then the people in our bigger area which may consist of say 10 wards … or churches … then it goes to the church headquarters to help people throughout the world. Nothing is kept for overhead anywhere. It is called “fast offerings”. The other thing we do is contribute to what is called the Humanitarian Fund which has been used in all corners of the world in disaster areas. Also none of this is used for overhead. We feel good about that donation and that we can make a difference to the lives of people we don’t even know and that they won’t feel an obligation back to us individually. I agree, you have to be careful which agencies you donate to because your donations can be used up quickly in overhead.

  • By Warren - Reply

    Actually, after I thought about it, I spend a great deal of time and money on my kids right now. I suppose there is something to be said about that…they really have top priority for the next few years. But at the same time, I don’t want to make excuses. I do want to become a more giving person.

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