Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Poisoning the Well of Human Caring

If you're reading this on email, you may want to read the post below first, so you know what I'm referring to here.

Image credit: Empathic Perspectives (and I am so hoping this is photoshopped....)

I've had a lovely email from a reader. So, I'm clarifying, since I think email war might be  counterproductive, that yes, I am actually audacious enough to be saying that I think that poisoning trust, empathy and concern for your fellow humans among children and youth has the capacity to be more deleterious than being dead in the Japanese earthquake. Because when you're dead, you're dead. If you're dead, your suffering is at an end. Done deal, over and out. Of course, the people who are left behind, having lost homes and loved ones, suffer greatly. But will you trust non-profits and NGOs enough to donate to their cause?* What does large scale non-profit fraud of one agency do to your willingness to donate to another? Does predisposing young people to being distrustful and unwilling to contribute to a greater common good really have an effect? (I can tell you in ultra-small sample size,  what my 15 year old now thinks about his "wasted" total $20 donation to Pennies for Peace, his future likelihood of wanting to donate to non-profits and my sincere hope that he's non-representative but my firm suspicion that he's going to be quite representative and therefore my hope that you, my Reader, never have need of aid from this upcoming generation: "Why bother?")  Because when you suffer adversity, be it because of earthquakes or tsunamis or people bombing and marching into your country because it's been hijacked by religious militants who want to foment hatred, keep your women ignorant, treat them egregiously and in which you may endure all manner of ongoing suffering every single waking moment of your vastly-diminished-compared-to-other-cultures lifespan, you might want to think that someone, somewhere, would give enough of a damn about other people on this planet to offer a helping hand if they could spare a dime. Or, as it were, a penny. So, um, yeah. Harm potentially much greater when you teach your youth that it isn't worth trying to help their fellow man because the guy collecting funds is probably just a con artist, committing fraud. Which is part of the whole point of the piece. If you erode people's capacity to care or trust enough to help their fellow man, where will we all be?

As to how big a deal Greg Mortenson had become? Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 and 2010 by members of Congress. Your president gave him $100,000 from his Nobel Peace Prize funds. Three Cups of Tea, Mortensen's first book and bestselling memoir, helped to found and raise $60M USD for the Central Asia Institute. Some of that money came from kids and schools. One of my GAL kids gave money because she thought it was "the Christian thing to do." (Like kids in foster care have money to burn???? “In 2009, schoolchildren donated $1.7 million to Pennies for Peace. But CAI’s total 2009 outlay for the things P4P is supposed to pay for—teachers’ salaries, student scholarships, school supplies, basic operating expenses—amounted to a paltry $612,000." - Jon Krakauer) People who could ill afford it gave to this cause. And they were burned. Money from those funds was evidently funneled directly into promoting Mortensen's books under the guise of such promotion being "outreach" and "fundraising". Some of that fundraising was travel, which required private jets, of course. ("In 2009 CAI spent more than $1 million to promote sales of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools, and another $1.4 million to fly Mortenson around in chartered jets.” - Michelle Goldberg) Profits from the sales of the books do not go to the CAI, however. Did I mention Mortensen's nice spread in Bozeman yet? I'm sure you get the picture. 

Yes, he founded and supported, with his voice, a magnificent cause.

But let me tell you, if you read Krakauer's article, it also supported him.

Let us hope that the magnificent cause survives the storm. Because it will be a travesty if Greg Mortensen's future of possible fraud charges (a rolling stone, when sticky gathers moss) impacts the public's trust for programs like those that CAI has promoted and been strongly associated with. Actually, agencies that had partnered with CAI are reportedly fleeing the association.

Who can blame them?

And for the record, the Japan mention? That link was to the Global Giving Fund for Japan. But here's another one, for the Japanese Red Cross Society. So, um, how cynical and apathetic are you? You could donate if you're feeling so inclined.

Anyway, yeah, I'm cynical. But no, I'm not apathetic yet. I still believe in universal healthcare, food stamps for the hungry, better mental healthcare, support for persons with disabilities and educating girls as a means to better some of the most impoverished and adverse places on this planet. I still believe in otters, puppies and kittens, Nick Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn and countless causes to aid people in some of the most difficult places to live on this planet.

In spite of my vast disappointment in Mortensen.

*I am not even going to get into the whole business of whether people are more willing to donate to causes in more Westernized countries like Japan than they are in Congo, Indonesia, Afghanistan or Haiti. Can't. Go. There. Right. Now.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011

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