Helping the homeless

This is a question that has been bugging me for quite some time. Intuitively and optimistically, we like to think that all people are fundamentally good. We like to think there are some truly kind people out there who honestly care for those around them. They want to see the world as a better place for everyone as a goal unto itself. They want to help others with absolutely no expectation of receiving anything in return.

But is that really possible?

Is It Really About Helping Others?

Think about that for a moment. When you donate time or money to a charitable cause of your choosing, are you really doing it because you want to help that charity? Are you really doing that to make the lives of other people better in some way? We like to think that, but if you’ll allow me to play devil’s advocate, our motivations could be far more selfish than that.

Maybe, just maybe, you’ve decided to donate some money to a charity or give some spare change to the homeless person on the street, not because you want to help them per se, but rather because giving to charity provides you with positive feelings. You do this because it makes you feel good about yourself. The core motivation, in this case, isn’t selfless at all, because it still comes down to how you feel about the act and the rewards (emotional or otherwise) that you receive as a result.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to feel good about doing a good deed, but such a motivation can be interpreted as selfish.

The Guilt Trip

Here’s another scenario, one that we see utilized — rightly or wrongly — by many of the world’s charities. If you are reading this blog post, it means that you are likely better off than the majority of the world’s population. You have access to a computer or some other similar device and you have access to the Internet. Chances are that you have a reasonably comfortable home and you don’t have too many worries about where you’ll get your next meal. Despite any hardships and challenges that you may face, your life as a whole is generally positive.

From this, we may develop a certain sense of guilt. We may feel guilty for being lucky or successful. From this, we may be shifting the perspective away from ourselves and toward the needs of others. We feel compelled to help those less fortunate than us, either in our own town or abroad, because we want to alleviate this sense of guilt. When we donate the equivalent of “the cost of a cup of a coffee” per day to a child in need, we may feel better about ourselves. Again.

Be a Good Human Being

Once more, I’m not at all saying that we shouldn’t help people who are less fortunate than we are. I am saying that it may be possible that we’re not as selfless as we like to think we are. Some people might be more driven by religion, helping others as means to ascend to heaven and to avoid hell (or some other equivalent).

Whatever the case may be, whatever your motivation may be, if it means that more people are willing to help others in whatever way they can, we can have a better world. And that’s okay by me.