Doing good, while putting yourself first

Busker in Ignoreland
Image by tochis via Flickr

Why yes, my busking fund is coming along swimmingly, thanks!

(Background: last month I withdrew cash to stash in my wallet to give to worthy buskers when I come across them, because whenever I walked past a good one I would bemoan the fact that I had nothing to give.)

I have now donated to a grand total of two buskers. Not many, no. They don’t tend to play at the times when I arrive/leave town, and work is such lately that I don’t really get breaks. Not the kind that entail leaving the office, at least.

Yet….I feel almost embarrassed, or secretive about the whole process. I don’t exactly carry change in my pocket. So that leaves me to hang around at a distance while I fumble in my wallet, extract some coins, then creep up, drop them into the guitar case, and escape. Or alternatively, stride up furiously without making eye contact, clang em down like a bomb and continue on my way without hardly missing a beat.

Compare this to the guilt I always used to feel when accosted by street collectors. I just can’t win!

Which got me thinking (well, that and reading Atlas Shrugged): How do you reconcile altruism in a capitalist world? How do you balance making a living and all that jazz, and making a difference?

I can’t say I’ve never contemplated trying to move into PR/marketing to make more and have better hours. Yes, I’m playing the game – that game – buying into the dream of working hard, buying a house, starting a family.

But on the flip side, I often think that I should go and work for a charity. Put my skills to some real good. Sometimes, I think “I have so much. Shouldn’t I go live in Africa and devote my life to my fellow human beings? Who am I to be eating out and dreaming of buying a house when elsewhere women are raped and children go hungry and uneducated?”

My measly $10 or $20 or $30 – whatever I give away in a given month – seems like such a paltry amount. A selfish, token donation. Of course I could afford to give more. Most of us can. Of course I could give enough to hurt. But I choose not to. I choose to put my personal wellbeing, enjoyment and goals ahead of selflessness.

Gah. Please tell me I’m not the only one who ever feels like this.

9 thoughts on “Doing good, while putting yourself first

  1. You’re obviously not the only one who ever feels that, haha. It’s human nature to put oneself before others. Survival of the fittest. Nobody really gives the shirt off their back, so don’t ever feel like you have to.

  2. Nope, certainly not the only one. I think most of us feel this way. You work hard to make ends meet and buy a few luxuries, you should enjoy the fruits of your labour. A donation to charity, no matter how small, is a good thing and you shouldn’t feel guilty about keeping some for yourself. You never know when you may need it.

  3. I feel like this quite frequently! It’s hard to know that there is so much suffering in the world, and that we COULD be doing more. But at the same time, we work hard for what we have, and saving for the future is important- no point in turning around and needing all that help back! And a few luxuries make life better, right? Anyway, I totally relate, and it’s hard to get over those feelings sometimes, but somehow, I usually do! (I usually donate a bit more to a local charity, and even though it’s a small amount it seems to help a little)

  4. My problem is that there are SOOOOO many good causes to give to. Which would help the most people? Or should we give to causes that help solve problems so that there are less people that need help? Do you spread the donations around or concentrate on one area? I have thought about this lots, but eventually always come to the conclusion that I’m doing what I’m willing to do, and that is more than doing nothing. Also, I think our society is not set up correctly–if it were there certainly wouldn’t be vast stores of extra food rotting in one country while people starve in others. we should be giving money to treat the cause rather than the symptoms. but that is another discussion entirely…

  5. You certainly aren’t the only one feeling that way, but I’m iffy of the first world guilt that so easily creeps up on us. Why is that you feel like you should live in Africa and help those in need? Why not start somewhere closer to home? Volunteering your time and making a difference for one person can and most likely do volumes more than you can do with something as broad as “living in Africa.”

    To be clear, I’m not knocking living in Africa, I just feel a bit iffy when someone uses that continent as their go-to place for altruism. I’m sure in NZ there are many others that could benefit from your act of kindness.

    In conclusion, community service is awesome!

  6. I think you’ve got a pretty good balance on your priorities. It’s not like you don’t give at all. You give what you can while at the same time you take care of yourself. I don’t see any harm in that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>