I have a 20-something Facebook friend in Gaza, with whom I message and chat. She is a mother of two. Her 6-month-old baby has asthma and is in some kind of breathing tent, for which she needs money for oxygen and medicine. I’ve seen pictures and video and talked with her; it’s not a scam.
I’ve sent her $15 or $20 several times over the last six months for food. I doubt this is the most effective use of this money in the Gaza context. But how does one say no to a mother trying to keep her baby alive, and then donate the money to some political campaign instead, or buy a sandwich for dinner?
For that matter, how does one step past homeless, hungry people on the street and then go home to a warm bed and food? Much less eat in a restaurant?
Times have changed and it’s harder to figure out where to give, especially if you don’t have much. I was raised to save money, live frugally, to be ready for old age and hard times. But now, saving money seems the least productive thing one can do with it. When nearly everyone needs help, when political action is so necessary to stop wars, social evils and climate catastrophe, what good does it do to have money in the bank? What is money but numbers on a paper or a spreadsheet anyway? How does it make sense to add another zero to your life savings for a future that may not come, or which may be beyond the power of money to help?
For people before the Internet, those in need around the world were just photo images, or descriptions in a story, or statistics. We didn’t know them. But now, people in Gaza or Gambia whom I meet online can share with me personal details and pictures; we can video chat on messenger apps. Now I know them, their families and their need. It feels very different than a fundraising letter from an American charity.
On the other hand, sending money to an online contact helps only one person or family out of millions and does nothing to address the causes of their suffering. But that said, we do for people we know personally all the time. We buy for our cousins; we give to local food banks; we share with our neighbors. Even more selfishly, if that is the word, we spend money on ourselves every day without thinking about it. Buy food, clothes, batteries, take classes, pay doctors. Why is that OK? Does it make sense to buy shoes for our neighbor children, when children farther away may have much greater needs?
I have been told that, instead of giving to individuals who may be scamming me, I should donate to agencies working in their areas. But is that really more effective, or just adding a layer of administrative spending to the donation? And then again, a working person, to say nothing of a low-income disabled person like me, who gives to every worthy cause would be bankrupt by the end of the first day.
Maybe it would be better to spend on political donations to causes or candidates, to address the systemic causes of suffering. I’ve never helped candidates much before, but it’s an election year, and there actually are good candidates. Though I know (believe) that US elections are fixed, and that unelected corporate reps continue to run everything no matter who wins, I’m still drawn to support people who are fighting for change.
But really? What good does sending $20 do, when some billionaire can contribute a few million out of his pocket change? Could giving $50 to support indigenous Amazonians succeed in stopping multi-billion-dollar logging and mining industries? Wouldn’t it be better to send that money to a baby in Gaza who needs milk or hand it to a person begging on the street? Or what?
I’m also told that the world is a place of abundance, and to focus on those in need or on things that need changing is choosing to make myself miserable. I should help when I can but not focus too much on suffering. Maybe they’re right. I feel there are deep emotional or psychological issues that impact my attitudes and choices about what to do with money, but I don’t know what they are. Mostly I’m just confused. How do you deal with these issues of gifting money in your life?