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Charitable Americans really do want to help, and no one does it better

Summer is supposed to be a time for mulling things over, for sitting back in the easy chair and letting things come to you for a while. It's a lot of fun to watch the world turn for a bit and pretend to be an objective observer.

Occasionally something slips in to disturb the peaceful trails you were blazing. This was the summer of Live Aid, when the countries of the world got together for a common cause. For those of us trying to get a taste of life, this was "...our Woodstock, and it was a long time coming."

The concert was also, according to some, one of the most selfish and despicable acts we've ever done. I couldn't understand this accusation; how could a massive act of benevolence be selfish? Not discounting the purely rock and roll aspects of the event, this theory seemed incredible.

What the critics were decrying wasn't Live Aid in particular, but any form of charity we make. To them, it isn't enough. We're constantly being told how selfish and wasteful we are as a society and how our one-time charitable contributions are not going to help in the long run; in some cases they may even make things worse.

Well, I must agree that giving a starving man one meal isn't going to cure his hunger. But isn't it better to give him one meal rather than nothing? There's a limit to how much time, energy, and money a person can afford to give. Some people do choose to devote their lives to this cause, and I commend them. Everyone, however, shouldn't be expected to do so.

People have got to live their own lives. There was unfairness and injustice in the world long before western civilization arose; why are we being blamed for it? The moral majority, the press, second grade teachers and an endless number of charities all scream at us about how we're not doing the right thing, how we're merely advocating short term, financially easy solutions that won't drain our resources too much but won't solve the problems either.

I'd like to know how we can do any better. Short term donations are the most plentiful avenues of charity open to us. The child sponsor programs, the Peace Corps, and other long term programs are more demanding, less numerous and often not the best solution either. Just because today I have money to donate doesn't mean I'll have the money later.

I believe that people are generally good: They care about others. No sane and rational person wants to see injustice in the world. There's a tremendous consciousness in this country of our affluence compared to other countries, and of the responsibility we have to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

I noticed this summer that along with this consciousness, there is a tremendous sense of frustration at not being able to help. The example which stood out so clearly was the Live Aid concert. Thousands of people went to see the concert at exorbitant prices; of course, they went to hear the performers, but everyone was glad that their money would be put to good use.

Before the concert millions of people bought records by Band Aid and USA for Africa, which certainly weren't the rock and roll tour de force the concert was. An entire society saw some opportunity to help, and they did so with a passion and vengeance which surprised everyone. People thought: "Hey, if my ten dollars can make a difference, I'll buy this record. It makes me feel good to do something."

What happened next? I read a newspaper column decrying the ten dollar quick-fix solution. I read how we're being selfish by buying this record, since it will temporarily allay our feelings of guilt at being such a wasteful society and allow us to sleep better for a few nights.

For crying out loud, is everything we do wrong? There are so many roads to travel, so many opinions to consider and choices to make that we're beset by confusion and perplexity. This often leads to indifference and apathy: if all that I do is wrong, then I can avoid hurting anyone by not doing anything. Is this a better attitude to take?

At this point in an argument my debate partners would ask for my solution to the problem. I can't give one; I don't know how to eradicate world hunger or how to organize an effective charity which satisfies everyone.

I've been reproved for this answer. People say I shouldn't complain about a system if I can't offer anything better. At least the system is working as it is.

Sure it's working. We've got a society of people who truly want to help in some way and are perpetually frustrated since everything they do is condemned as a quick fix and guilt pacifier. No, I can't offer any solution. But I can look around and see the tension in the air. Why this pressure, why the negativism, why is everything we do wrong? Who's doing anything better?