Sep 26, 2005

Hurricane relief: The game show

It's hard to fault corporations who donate money and goods to help survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Yet the spectacle I saw on the Today Show this morning left a really bad taste in my mouth.

Renaming Rockefeller Plaza Humanity Plaza was just the beginning. Next we see perky Katie Couric at her perkiest don an apron (ostensibly to help build houses for Habitat for Humanity) and introduce a woman who likely had the hardest of all hard luck stories: Let's call her Jackie. It wasn't enough that Jackie lost her home; it wasn't enough that Jackie got separated from her all but one of her four children. No, Jackie has also been diagnosed with a terminal disease and has been given six months to live.

Katie introduces Jackie and teases her story out of her, causing the poor woman break down into hysterics: Full-blown hicupping tears. This is the cue to reunite her with her missing children.

Jessica, Jerome and little Jesse: COME ON DOWN.

There followed interviews of the children, from youngest to oldest, punctuated by announcements of the prizes they win for participating in this dog and pony show. Little Jesse gets a backpack full of school supplies from Corporation X; Jessica gets A BRAND NEW CAR, etc., etc.

In the end, Jackie came out a winner in gameshow parlance, but why did this poor woman have to endure this spectacle? Hasn't she been through enough?

I am reminded of the Eight Levels of Charity of Maimonides:

1. Giving a poor person work (or loaning him money to start a business) so he will not have to depend on charity. This is because the person is now free from having to rely on charity. The giver has not just helped the recipient for the short while, but instead for the rest of their life. There are four sublevels to this:
1. Giving a poor person work.
2. Making a partnership with them (this is lower than work, as the recipient might feel he doesn't put enough into the partnership).
3. Giving a loan.
4. Giving a gift.

2. Giving charity anonymously to an unknown recipient.
3. Giving charity anonymously to a known recipient.
4. Giving charity publicly to an unknown recipient.
5. Giving charity before being asked.
6. Giving adequately after being asked.
7. Giving willingly, but inadequately.
8. Giving unwillingly.

Number 9 might be giving adequately but primarily for publicity.

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