When I see a person with a charitable disposition engaging in an act of charity I feel warm. But public demonstrations of charity make me queasy. These days there are many opportunities for queasiness.
Imagine my queasiness when I first heard that Canterbury’s newest medical facility was to be a charity hospital. My admiration for the doctor who instigated it, was spoiled by my vision of old socialists turning in their graves. Still, at least the charity hospital is not a yuletide event.
In Wanaka there is an energetic drive going on, which is developing into an annual pre-Christmas affair, to collect food parcels for the poor. The poor being people who come to this wealthy, high cost area to work in low paid jobs. If they lose their jobs they are trapped by poverty. Last year the enthusiasm that went into this campaign verged on the unseemly. But of course that’s only my view. Many would say they’d expect nothing better from a Scrooge-like, kill-joy, die-hard socialist who thinks charity should be a structured part of the welfare state. All of the above is true but still... I can’t help thinking; so what happens after the good will of Christmas has died down?
Giving makes people feel good. The Pike River tragedy is the latest illustration of this. Fund-raising began almost immediately. I have yet to hear what precisely it is meant to achieve. I know it won’t ease the grief and I won’t be surprised if the money creates conflict and lasting bitterness. But such considerations are not relevant in the minds of the givers.
The rush to charity can be puzzling. For instance, food parcels for Southland farmers. This enthusiastic televised event followed a heavier than usual snow-fall, an occurrence farmers, who have well-stocked larders and bursting freezer, are well equipped to deal with. The bemused farmers, no doubt with considerable embarrassment, could do no more than go along with the charade. Madness.
A television news clip showing students collecting food for the annual Presbyterian food-parcel appeal in Otago chilled me with the following comment from the person in charge: “I’m hoping the habit can be developed.”
The habit is well entrenched in government and business. Our state-owned railway, once relied on to provide opportunities for apprentices and skilled work for New Zealanders, has just sold off jobs to the Chinese. Since charity has replaced social planning, no doubt charity will fill the gap.
It gets worse. Despite its proud history of looking after people with disabilities, the New Zealand Returned Servicemen’s organisation has made an equally startling decision. It has sold off the poppy contract to an Australian company that uses Chinese components. Because it’s cheaper than having them made by the disabled employees of Kilmarnock Enterprises.
The leaders of these two prominent organisations are clearly confident that their ruthless, mean-spirited decisions are in line with current social attitudes, and I’m afraid they’re right.
Charity may be giving folks, but it sure as hell is not sharing.