When is Generosity Not Genuine?

When I grew up, I’d occasionally stay up late watching TV. About 10 minutes into a show, the screen with cut away to the first ad.

I remember the images used in commercials produced by NGOs that were meant to solicit donations, which appealed to the sensibilities of audiences in the developed world. The typical photo or video clip that was used to solicit donations was one of an emaciated child sitting on a dirt floor in worn-out clothes.

In countries where consumer capitalism has gained a secure foothold, it’s easy to understand why this imagery would be effective.

In modern consumer societies, we’re programmed to develop a sense of lack of discomfort about our identities. And the appropriate Pavlovian response to relieve this distress is to engage in a financial transaction to acquire a product or service that alleviates whatever physiological or psychological pain is ailing us.

By simply giving money to a worthy cause, we’re participating in a similar sort of economic exchange that aims to address the sense of distress we feel from seeing the reality of human existence. Even though we may be far removed from that hungry child we see on the TV screen, we know that suffering exists.

“Being a being” in the world means enduring a good deal of suffering.

Thankfully, there are NGOs that don’t resort to such insidious marketing tactics — who see themselves in the people that they serve and not above them.

There’s certainly merit to helping others in any way that we can, regardless of our intentions.

However, we should carefully examine the reasons why we help others in an effort to do more good than harm when we act.

When we give with a pure heart with an understanding that others are similar to us, we can feel pure joy from giving.

This is how similarity can breed contentment.

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