Thursday, November 5, 2009

Your perspective on donating

RB: One of the things I have learned in the time that I have followed Zuska's blog, is that the more I peel away the layers on my own "bias onion", the more layers I find. At times it is a bit discouraging, but also enlightening, and at least I recognize my shortcomings and try to address them.

Recently, I peeled away another layer when Zuska and I had a conversation about the collection jars in her original post. I remarked that in my youth (when I was not so wise or mature), I did not see too many of these jars asking for donations, and when I did, I often felt that somehow the people who needed help were at fault. I thought that maybe they spent all their money unwisely, or that they did something wrong to be in that situation. Zuska replied that her experience was far different, and that she always felt the jars were "a fact of life, as what people had to do to get by."

Her email continued:
Do you think your earlier in life reaction to these was affected by the socioeconomic background of your upbringing? What I am trying to get at - if you were raised in relatively comfortable circumstances, with access to reasonable health insurance, and most people around you the same, then the appearance of such jars would seem like the "fault" of the people involved...different perspective if you are embedded in a community on the margins.

My thoughts and feelings have changed as I have matured. I realize how foolish my initial interpretations were, but given the context of my upbringing, they were not surprising. I now know how hard life can be, having lived a lot more of it. For myself, a long-term illness or severe health trauma would sap my financial resources in a heartbeat. It is scary to think that so many families are "that close" to the edge.

The jars themselves are objects -- they exist on their own, and their purpose is set. But how we interpret them can be very different, depending on the baggage we bring to the table.

What about you? Did you live in a community that saw a lot of these jars (or other fundraisers) when you were young? What did you think then? And has your perspective changed?

1 comment:

  1. Most of those jars put forth a pretty compelling case for their need to beg for money. The first one I saw was for a child with leukemia, and I thought to myself, "Oh, that poor kid! I can spare a quarter or two. I hope he'll be all right."

    But then, I was in my mid-twenties before "don't give money to the homeless because they'll only spend it on drugs and booze" fazed me at all. I gave to the homeless all the time. I bought pencils from deaf people in subway cars. I gave change to subway musicians. I pledged small amounts to walkathon participants. All this in spite of my inability to stay gainfully employed... or maybe because of it.

    Maybe I could see myself out on the street as a youngster, because high school was so hard for me that I figured I'd have trouble supporting myself. Maybe I saw myself in the face of every unfortunate I met, or in the general idea of people who couldn't afford food, housing, and/or medical treatment.

    The jars, specifically, used to be much less common a decade or two ago than they are now. Or maybe not. Now that I'm actively searching for them, I can't seem to find any. I swear they're more common in the summer.