GoFundMe. YouCaring. Kickstarter. In my daily sojourn through social media, I am bound to see links to at least one of these sites. Over the years I’ve donated to budding restaurants, film projects, cancer patients, and even to a friend who knits premiums to entice people to help her with her bike-racer son’s bicycle upkeep. I admit, I paid up for that one because I know how nice her hats are, and I need a winter hat. I’ve also donated to an old friend from grade school who needs some help before her disability comes through. I’m glad to help these people. The number of requests for immediate assistance seem to be multiplying in my feed, though, and it’s making me feel, well, crowded.
Some of us are hard-wired to serve, and we often end up in public service of some kind. It’s our natural instinct to help; sometimes it’s even an instinct we have to curb, because some people don’t want help, especially in the form of unsolicited advice. When we hard-wired servers see more people to help than our funds can allow, second guessing our funding choices is only one of the considerations that may fuel our anxiety.
For instance, should I have supported an acquaintance’s search for permanent, safe housing, now that it means I don’t have the funds to support another acquaintance’s son’s cancer treatment? When I share a sweet hug with yet another acquaintance at the grocery store, I feel a twinge of guilt that I didn’t contribute to her fund to save her partner from colon cancer. What about the trust fund for the young boy who just lost his dad? Should I give less to each acquaintance, diluting the good I do for each particular cause? Should I develop a lottery system, and pull one cause out of my son’s ball cap each month? Or should I simply retrain myself to be more callous and less giving and keep my money for myself? The last choice sounds ugly, not to mention impossible.
I will refrain from judgments about the reasons people ask for cash on these sites. Go to gofundme.com and you can see the wide range of needs and the amazing amount of funding going to some of these causes. I notice one central theme: many of the needs of these people used to be met by government. I remember this from my childhood. Of course, there were fewer of us then, many of us a proud part of a flourishing middle class that created a broader tax base. Doctors and even hospitals were affordable; insurance was easier to obtain. In today’s fend-for-yourself, corporate-friendly society, each citizen tends to be more on his or her own. So we turn to crowd funding and tap each other out while the one percent looks more and more like the folks who live in the Capitol from The Hunger Games. I can imagine if gofundme or youcaring had been allowed in District Twelve. Primrose might have started a fund to pay for a pig to feed her family, for instance.
My husband likes to remind me that the tows we get on our AAA card are not “free”, they are “prepaid.” I think of this when I watch the pundits on Fox bash Sanders for wanting to give away everything. In several weeks, when I write a check to the IRS, what will I be paying for? That same week I’ll see some acquaintance or other on social media, spun and grieving from some disaster, and I won’t be able to give, or give as much, because I’ve donated my cash to the Federal Reserve for another big party at the Capitol.
It is horrible to watch people suffer. Is it possible to end this trend and once more have a government that serves people in need while not compromising their rights, privacy, and sovereignty? The next year will show us, and if we get that far it will take a few years more to prove the possibility. Meanwhile we’ll continue to tap each other for the resources we have. Those of us hard-wired to serve will find joy in the process even though it’s helping to perpetuate a callous system that would itself greatly benefit from doses of humility and service. Give freely. Care deeply. But consider demanding equity and fairness while you remember to put on your own oxygen mask first.