“Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.”
– Robert Lupton, Toxic Charity
I’ve experienced some of this in my own life…
1) Don’t get me wrong – I have an amazing life: wonderful friends and family, a beautiful house, access to food, plenty of clothes.. BUT I also have no incentive to work: I have ALL of this without needing to lift a finger.
2) I’m also embarrassed that I don’t work. When asked what I do, I often avoid eye contact and mumble, “uh.. nothing”. I’m grateful that people care and want to help, but it’s embarrassing that I can’t land any of the jobs I’m applying for.
3) I (sometimes) feel guiltily indebted to Andy: basically the entire time we’ve been married, he’s worked a full-time job while I’ve done just random things here and there. I know I need to step up and contribute… don’t want him to regret his decisions to support (or marry) me! 😉
So how does this relate to charity, you ask?
1) Destroys initiative.
Chapter 2: Juan Ulloa, Opportunity International’s Nicaragua Director, laments that American church partners “’destroy the initiative of [his] people’” and turn them into beggars: why work when donors continually provide free clothing, books, and manual labor?
Chapter 3: After moving into an urban neighborhood, Lupton saw firsthand what happens when well-meaning donors bring over Christmas presents: “a father is emasculated in his own house in front of his wife and children for not being able to provide presents for his family… [and] children get the message that the ‘good stuff’ comes from rich people out there and it is free.”
3) Hurts the giver.
Chapter 4: Lupton says it well: “No one wants to support irresponsibility. Or create dependency. Or feel used. Unless the victim of misfortune exerts honest effort to regain self-reliance, the relationship between helper and helpee will tend to deteriorate. At some point accountability is required.”
I know my situation is a little different (and poverty is so much more complicated than these 3 simple points), but charity – even when done with the best of intentions and out of love – can destroy incentive, emasculate, and hurt the helper/helpee relationship. Hopefully these examples will help spark ideas for more effective development strategies (e.g. rethinking aid incentive structures, training and empowering, ensuring recipient accountability).
Please leave any other ideas in the Comments section below!