Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Philanthropy Dilemma

A few years ago when Angus was having three boys sleep over for his birthday, one of the moms called me and said her son was nervous about bringing a stuffed animal that he needed to sleep with. She said "I just told him 'Angus's mom is super nice and she won't let the other boys make fun of you'". That was nice to hear, but in general I think of myself as 'pretty nice' as opposed to 'super nice'. There's a significant degree of self-interest there - I just tend to feel better about making people feel good than about making them feel bad (when I was young I sort of thought that was a no-brainer, everyone-feels-that-way kind of deal - turns out, not so much), and if I can help someone by going slightly out of my way (let's not get all crazy here), I'm in.

I give people a solid chance when I meet them, I try to make shy people feel welcome, and I'm willing to give people a second chance, but I also hold years-long grudges on ridiculously thin pretexts (should have RSVPd to that party invitation, Rob, now you're dead to me).

I'm not one of those people who stick their hand up for every single thing. I've helped in the school library almost every week since Eve was in JK, but I don't go for pizza day or hot dog day (except when I'm there already for shelving or running the book fair). I volunteer in the class regularly, but I don't do a shift at every single other school event like some people do. I am not one of those volunteer-for-everything people who run around frazzled and overcommitted, partly because I always feel slightly exasperated by those people (as well as grudgingly admiring), and at this point in my life, I know my limits; if I did that for school and community work, I would have nothing left for my family, and I'm not willing to make that trade in order to be thought of as a super-volunteer. No one's ever going to worry that I'm going to ruin my health trying to save the world.

But I'm gullible and soft-hearted. When we lived in Toronto, my husband said I must be on some list of TO's Top 10 Most Exploitable Resources for Criminals. My wallet got stolen because I didn't lock it up at work and teen-age boys got into the back store room. Every yahoo with a sob story got money out of me. And this is the thing. I don't mind being a nice person, a rule-follower, but I hate feeling like a sucker. If there's a stupid rule and I realize I'm the only one following it, I have a really hard time still following it just on principle. If someone's taking advantage of me, I want to be aware of it and I want THEM to be aware that I know what they're doing, and I'm letting myself be taken advantage of because I'm nice, not because I'm stupid.

(Although every now and then, I would have to sort of admire the lengths some people will go to for a scam. The guy who came into the bookstore where I was working, talked about Urban Peasant cookbooks with me, special ordered a book, then went through this elaborate charade of "I left my kids playing in the park and then threw my jacket in my car trunk with my keys in it and I need to call a locksmith, oh, the locksmith costs a hundred dollars cash on a Sunday"? Yeah, there's a special place in Hell for people like him, preying on people's better nature and then making them suspicious for the rest of their lives, but come on, that took some serious planning and creativity, not to mention acting skills.)

So on this Facebook group for moms in my area, someone posted that she was helping out a single dad with two kids who had used up all the food bank resources in his area and needed food for the week. I was going grocery shopping the next day anyway, so I said I'd pick some stuff up and drop it off at her place, which is a half hour away from me.

And this is my problem - I leap to the rescue, because I can afford it, and theoretically I have the time to drop off the stuff, but then I start experiencing not-super-nice doubts about the legitimacy of the whole thing. I don't know this person. I don't know the person she's claiming to be helping. Am I just being a total dupe? HAVE I LEARNED NOTHING?? I couldn't get this picture out of my head, of me and my liberal guilt buying food and driving it right to her door like a magnificent chump while she .... I don't know, twiddles her thumbs and chuckles evilly like a criminal mastermind? Hey, I'm not super-nice AND I have an overactive imagination.

So I told her I couldn't drop it off after all and waited to see what would happen. She said she would get her husband to pick it up on the way home from work.

So, fine. If she's really helping this man, then I helped. If it's a scam to get food for herself, then presumably she needs it. And I was going for groceries anyway. I'm only half a sucker. Right?

5 comments:

Nicole said...

I TOTALLY GET THIS. Not long ago, a FB friend said that someone she knows lost her husband in a car crash, and they have a baby, and the woman didn't have a job, and she was collecting clothes, formula, diapers...so I went out and bought a giant thing of diapers and a bunch of formula and waited for this woman to come and pick it up...and she never came. I don't know why or what happened, but after several weeks of staring at the giant pile of baby stuff, my husband talked to a colleague whose wife works with a local charity and she took it all. All of which is to say...I get it.

I'm sure you helped this woman - like you said, even if it was an elaborate plan to get food for herself, presumably she needs it. You're a good person!

Swistle said...

Favorite part: "I also hold years-long grudges on ridiculously thin pretexts (should have RSVPd to that party invitation, Rob, now you're dead to me)."

Maria said...

I agree with Swistle. I BURST out laughing at that one, mainly because I am kettle to your pot.

Steph Lovelady said...

I was in a train station once and I was approached by a college-age young man with some tale of woe-- I don't remember the details-- but I ended up giving him money. I admit I was influenced by the fact that he reminded me of my own students (I was teaching at the time) and I'd want people to help them if they were stranded. Also, he seemed to be gay, which I will also admit swayed me. Anyway he thanked me profusely and insisted on taking my address down so he could repay me.

Of course he never did and I've always been mad he added that little detail to his routine because otherwise I'd never know I'd been scammed. Why did he have to let me know?

Steph Lovelady said...

But good for you for erring on the side of nice