US – “Feel Good” Charity Story Masks “Feel Bad” Story About Our Failure to Care for Our Fellow Human Beings – 2 August 2012

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=157614497ā€Ž

“Man’s Dying Wish For $500 Tip Inspires Charity”, says the headline.

“Oh no,” I said, anticipating that this would be one of those insufferable feelgood stories that gets passed around on Facebook – the kind that makes it seem like you can change people’s lives by randomly donating a triflingly small amount of money to someone, instead of, you know, contributing to national programs to combat poverty or invest in public infrastructure. The usual crap.

But when I read the article, I realised this story might possibly be so, so, so much worse than that.

Aaron Collins, a 29-year-old who lived in Lexington, Kentucky, wrote in his will that it was his dying wish, and I’m quoting the will verbatim here, to “leave an awesome tip (and I don’t mean 25%. I mean $500 on a fucking pizza).” So Aaron’s family decided to make it happen, via a website, and people from all over contributed a buck or two so that Aaron could posthumously tip a waiter or waitress in a grand style. In true Hollywood fashion, so many people responded that $47,000 – so far – was raised to cover the originally proposed $500 tip.

You may be asking at this point why I have a problem with this apparently heartwarming story. I will now explain that. As I do, I am taking great care not to overstate my case, because Aaron Collins does have a surviving family whose sensibilities need to be considered fully. I am trying to keep what I am saying connected as closely as possible to the known facts. And the known facts are these:

Aaron Collins was not a rich individual. He did not leave enough money behind him in his will to manage to cover this proposed $500 tip. This is why his family had to raise the funds through their efforts.

Aaron Collins was a man not even 30 years old who had written a will, stored on his computer, that even his closest family did not know he had written.

Aaron Collins, according to the preliminary coroner’s report, died in such a way that “strangulation contributed to the death”.

I believe everyone by now knows what I am suggesting. It is entirely possible that this young man killed himself.

I don’t know for certain that is true, and perhaps I am wrong about that. But I can’t help but wonder if this kind of penny-ante charity for waiters and waitresses conceals a certain bad faith. It keeps me up nights thinking that we live in a world where people will send off their nickels to give someone working at a customer service job enough money to ease the hit from their rent payments for one month, maybe two, but where suicide prevention programs are more than likely to get hit by the budget cutter’s axe.

And what’s worse is, I know that the people who “feel good” about sending a passingly small amount of money to a random stranger while systematic harm comes to thousands of people…will sleep fine. And the next morning they will wake up, refreshed, and complain their taxes are too high.

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