The Psychology of Giving

The generosity of the American people in response to the crisis in Haiti is truly remarkable.  Last reported the American Red Cross had raised $22 million alone through the text messaging program initiated just last Friday.  We are one week into the crisis and the coffers are rising rapidly.

Here we are in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930s with over 10% unemployment, 17% when you include part-time workers who can’t find a full time job, increasing poverty, an increasing number of homeless on our city streets, yet Americans open up their wallets in support of a third world country in time of need.

What causes this type of reaction?  Is it the dramatic news footage of dead bodies and starving babies strewn amongst the the streets?  Is it a guilty response to our advanced standard of living relative to the Haitians?  Is it purely just wanting to help?  What is it?  I really don’t know.  Probably a combination of all.

Last week while in San Francisco I watched a homeless man in his 30s carefully sift through a trash receptacle one morning on Union Square.  He found two venti-sized plastic cups, filled one with the remnants of any remaining liquids and the other with solids.  After digesting both, he turned, smiled and proceeded down the street.  A pretty good breakfast in his mind all things considered.  In the meantime, a thousand people passed by not offering a single cent.

Why is that?  Why are we so callous to the plight of the downtrodden in this country and will walk by this man in Union Square while texting $10 to the Haitian Relief Fund?  Is it that we believe it is his own fault he is homeless?  Do we think he is on drugs?  Do we not trust him to spend our gift wisely?  Do we think our own welfare programs should take care of him?  Is it survival of the fittest?  What is it?  Why is Haiti different?

We Americans love to show our compassion to the world in time of crisis, yet we lack compassion for our own.  Me, I would prefer to see a little more balance.

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About Mike

Mike has been an executive in the biotechnology industry for the past 20 years. Mike is a graduate of University of California, Santa Barbara, earning Bachelors degrees in Business Economics and Geography. Mike also earned his MBA in Finance from California State University, Fresno. Mike is married to the mother of his 3 children and currently lives outside of Boulder, CO. In his spare time Mike enjoys hiking, fishing, skiing, reading and coaching basketball.
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