Guilty Goodness

by Jinryu

I think that one of the things that people should probably be aware of when it comes to charitable donations to Haiti is how this basically has a band-aid effect on the situation.  I’m not saying, don’t give if it makes you sleep better at night.  But what I am saying is that we are giving with one hand and taking with the other.

Something I suggest that people read up on is Haiti’s debt to to the IMF.  So basically, you have this incredible amount of money that Haiti owes to first world nations.  It is to the point where Haiti pretty much operates on what I like to call ‘Imaginary Money’ because it owes more than it produces.  Last I checked, a couple of months ago (before the earthquake ever hit) said that about a third of it’s GDP goes into paying of it’s IMF debt.

If you don’t know who the IMF is, well, that’s what Wikipedia is for, isn’t it?

The reason why I say giving with one hand and taking with another is because of how a lot of the support for Haiti is coming from the general populace. Private citizens are being called on in a non-government, unaflliated way to give generously.  Yet, at the same time, Haiti owes an insane amount of debt to the IMF, one that our same governments are associated with.

If you want the layman’s traslation, this is a simplistic way of hearing what the government is saying: “Give money to Haiti, because then they’ll be better able to pay back the impossible debt they owe to us.”

Or, basically, give money to first world nation governments.

Now, I know that it’s true that the money you give to private and public humanitarian organizations does go straight to ground zero– a dollar here a dollar there does go to a bottle of water, a bandage, a pipe.  However, this is, in my opinion, a cost that shouldn’t be dumped on the goodwill of humanitarian ogranizations– this is something that governments of the world need to involve themselves in aside from “Haiti, come on: lets talk about the money you owe us.”

Something else you should look up is the idea of odius debt [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odious_debt ], which is what Haiti has.  It is debt, basically, that is created by a regime for no benefit of the country.  The gajillion dollars that Haiti owes isn’t because it blew it’s money the wrong way on education or infrastructure or whatever– it exists because a couple of tyrants, the ‘Docs’, embezzled money from federal taxes into their own family fortune.  The idea of odius debt is that a so called humanitarian minded ogranization like the IMF shouldn’t be cashing in on it because it’s not debt that the people of Haiti asked for, nor is it debt that they should be responsible for.

Of course, why would the IMF want to cancel that much of debt? They don’t.  The whole world runs on debt– they say that Haiti was the first to really fight back French slavery, but did it really?  What we have simply is the evolution of slavery from on  the fields to in the checkbooks.

So of course our government (or at least the financial sectors of multnational corporations who are probably more influential, and definately outlast governments) will tell us to give generously, and conveniently, “if it bleeds, it leads” in the news media.

Why?

Because every time you give, that’s a few dollars and cents less that the government needs to cancel out of their debt.  The first world IMF nation governments are the ones who get the most out of your blind donations– for them, it’s free money. With the correct media spin, you even think that you’re doing a great thing.

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I was at the busstop this morning and I saw some high schoolers butt in line.  It was early in the morning, I had just finished work, and I was exhausted… I just wanted to take a nap.  And I still had a few hours of activity ahead of me, because I would still have to return some late books to the library,  etc etc…

Anyway, my point is this.  I think I was in one of those rare moods where I’m tired and wanted to pick a fight, so as they inched forward, trying to cut in front of me, I gave them a stare and told them “Les gars, donnez moi de l’espace.” (Dudes, give me some space.)

To which they gave me a frowny face but did actually back off, because I used ‘that look’ that I give that specifically is used to make people back off.

Now, giving money to Haiti and butting in line are related.

It has to do with being all you can be, and being a good person even on the days when you’re not guilted into it.

In the grand scheme of things, Haiti is just another disaster.  And it’s not that we need to stop caring about this one, or the next one– it’s that we need to start taking responsibility for our own backyards before we start signing checks off and absolving ourselves of responsibility.

There is always talk of providing sustainability in developping nations– but what people think is, okay, throw some money at it and they will be able to invest in educational infrastructures, that will lead to healthcare, responsible government, etc etc etc… But that’s not how sustainability starts.

Sustainability starts with the self.  That means that you, as an individual unconnected with any responsibilities to others, need to first take a long hard look at yourself and make sure that you are as good as you can be.  Haiti is related to everything, because it is a world problem– and as people of the world, it comes down to you.

Why aren’t you switching jobs, when you hate the one you’re at?
If you think you’re not qualified enough to do better, what are you doing to get qualified?
Why aren’t you breaking out of the familiarity of this abusive relationship in search of better things?
Why are you fooling yourself into thinking that you don’t have a drug abuse problem?

Those are dramatic examples, and I can’t think of anything more mundane, but it’s because this whole issue infuriates me.  The basic jist of it is this: what are you doing to make yourself a better person?

Because let me tell you– if you can’t help yourself, you can still try to help others, but that’s more an assuagement of your guilt than an actual premenence of relief for the other party.  You best help others by helping yourself first.  Get your shit together. Because sustainability of a cause doesn’t come from a fire-and-forget missle of money– it comes from your sustained dedication to humanitarianism.

That means that you don’t butt in line in the bus queue.

That means that you teach your kids not to do that either.

I’m not demanding that we all be saints– but shouldn’t we aspire to? Doesn’t it seem ridiculous that someone can give money to a cause because it’s a good thing, and yet, cut someone off in rushhour traffic?

I am not saying that giving generously doesn’t help– but it helps less than you may think.  Being a better person isn’t easy, and I think that the hardest thing about what I’m trying to say here is that you need to give up on fashionable causes and really work on yourself first.  People are likely to think that that’s selfish, but it’s actually a question of math and efficiency– being good isn’t always going to feel good.  I don’t consider myself a good person and people question me about this all the time– they tell me, “Ah, [Jinryu] your standards are too high” or “You’re too modest.”  I have spent the last 10 years of my life working in public service.  And I seldom talk about how great the work is. In fact, those of you who have been readers for that long know that I spend a great deal of time bitching about it.

The fact is though that I don’t believe that doing the right thing necessarily yields warm fuzzy feelings inside you.  Like going to the gym, more often than not it yields a painful, self-immolative burn– that’s the pain of discipline though, to pursue that which you believe in. The warm and fuzzy feelings are a side effect, an occasional moment of reward when there’s a lull in the chaos.  Any athlete will tell you that it’s ridiculous to do something just for the glory– that’s a bonus.  You can’t aim for just that. The only way you survive in an industry, be it of career or humanitarism, is if you develop an appreciation for self-imposed duties to your self-imposed beliefs.

So I tell you, just get your shit together!  Do what you really believe in and trust me, you will give back to the world.  But for chrissakes, please shut up about tragedies and disasters.  When will you get tired of this entry-level nickel and dime bullshit?  When  are you going to get ready to join the big leagues of adult society and really take responsibilty for the pursuit of your dreams, that can deliver the real payloads of sustainability through your own self-imposed duties to your self-imposed beliefs?  Weekend warriors need not apply.

What I want out of this nation is genuine transparency from it’s people. I want people to be who they are.  Acting out of guilt isn’t an act that I consider being reflective of who you are– because quite frankly, I or the media could guilt you into anything, and you can’t be all those things at once.  The only thing I want to guilt you into being is being yourself, so you can finally really get the ball rolling.

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