Helping

December 5, 2012

I wrote a comment just a little while ago about how many people seem disposed to help only those to whom they already feel some connection, and how factors other than need seem to be involved in the decision about whether or not (or how much) to help.

I thought I’d give an example here that sticks in my head about such issues.

I knew a woman who had moved to Arlington (the town where I live), with her husband and son, in the early 1960s.  They had a hard time arranging to buy a house in the town, they may even have ended up using a broker of some sort in order to complete a deal, after many deals had fallen through.  They were African American, and it was clear that sellers and real estate agents were impeding their purchasing on that, discriminatory, basis.  They were educated, well-spoken, soft-spoken, charming and friendly, funny, gainfully and professionally employed, etc.

She was a school teacher, her husband might have been one, too, I don’t remember.  They were also very wise and insightful people.  I knew them when they were elderly, and they were the sort of elderly people who inspire respect and admiration.  I remember Costella sat with Willy, not long before he died, so I could go run some errands.

Anyway, Costella told the story of how, not so long after they had managed to buy their home in town, there was a meeting in the church nearby about civil rights issues in the South.  One by one, local townspeople got up and made impassioned speeches on behalf of civil rights, and many wondered out loud in their speeches about what they could do to help.  Costella told of how she finally got up and told the group of how difficult it had been for her family to buy their home in town and how there was work to be done locally on civil rights issues.  She said, as she recounted what had happened, that her words were followed by complete silence.  She said, “You could have heard a pin drop.”

And she learned, people didn’t want to do what they actually could do, that there were other issues involved, including their wanting to feel good, look down on other people, etc.

Why people help others and under what circumstances is more complicated than the stories we tell ourselves.

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7 Responses to “Helping”


  1. That is likely why when people give/donate through the church it’s okay with them and they feel good about it even though they’ve done nothing real, they get to feel that they look good to their god or others in their religion.

    • Diana Moses Says:

      Can’t the same be said of charitable donations to other organizations? I mean, I think the religious element can be filtered out and the same basic pattern would remain.


      • Note quite. when I want to help cancer patients, I donate to cancer research charities. Donating to the church helps the church. All believers have the option to donate to a charity or through their church. What’s the benefit of donating through the church? Do you remember the kerfuffle with SGC and donations? You can’t remove religion from the equation as long as it’s involved in any way. Catholic charities would rather abandon the children than help a GLBT couple adopt. You have to be of the right world view to get charity through a church, more or less.

        Donating through the church allows you to show your bigotry and hatred and feel good that you’ve pleased your imaginary friend at the same time. Donating through the church “furthers god’s work” while donating to secular charities only helps those in need.

        Most believers and non-believers alike cannot directly fund cancer research so we are both reliant on charities to do the collecting…

      • Diana Moses Says:

        My experience of secular charities and do-good-ing organizations (and even government outlets like the public schools) is that they’re selective in who they help, too. And there’s an intrinsic issue with the writing-a-check model — it has it’s place, but it’s not the same as “sweat charity” (as in, “sweat equity” in working on one’s house). The limitations are there regardless of to whom the check is made out.

  2. Richard Says:

    I just mentioned to someone last week : if you want to see JimCrow or segregation at work go to any church on a Sunday morning


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