The third stanza of Laban Erapu’s Poem “Guilt Of Giving” comes to mind whenever I think of how photos of charitable events make their way to social media platforms. I think voluntourism and slackitivism fit into this list.
It is a debate that is alive – where it becomes hard to distinguish humble brags taking part in charitable activities and those with a genuine desire to transform other people’s lives. I always admire folks who request to remain anonymous in such scenarios. The beneficiary of the act of the good will be grateful and at the same time not feel indebted to the Good Samaritan. When you splash photos of you doing something for the less fortunate and the destitute in the society on social media platforms – in most scenarios you quickly shift the attention from the random act of kindness to yourself. In acute instances of narcissism, you will want to take the credit for ‘generosity’. This is particularly noticeable with politicians, non- governmental agencies and corporates who want to take the spotlight for their ‘generosity’ in guise of fulfilling their corporate social responsibility mandate but in essence they are in it for PR.
Lauren Wilson in her Op-Ed in the tabloid Thought Catalog calls it “public display of charity”. Katie J.M.Baker calls it ‘Charitable Humble Bragging”. We become more preoccupied about feeling good about ourselves and our deeds and less on the subjects of our deeds. Most casualties of this will include motivational speakers after a motivational speaking sessions in institutions, volunteer student and church groups after sharing time with kids in children’s’ homes, politicians and corporate honchos after issuing essentials and cheques for school fees or hosting an event on some cause they are passionate about like FGM et al among other groups folks who are susceptible to this kind of gaucheness.
For a staffer of Red Cross or St John’s Ambulance, most of these things are part of their lives. They do them every day. So while it may be trendy to folks out here, there are people who dedicate their entire lives silently and they don’t upload tones of photos after donating house hold items and personal effects to victims of post poll violence, hunger and other catastrophes. This is not an onslaught on genuine volunteers, good Samaritans and humanitarians – it is an indictment on humble brags, voluntourists and slacktivists who live tweet, Instagram and upload hundreds of photos on Facebook of them donating blood, or donating canned food in a bid to boost their social profile.
The preoccupation of wanting to exploit these aspects of service activities may be interpreted as being disingenuous in your motives. The capacity of true altruism becomes indistinguishable from narcissism and egoism. In the past few months, political aspirants eyeing various seats have sprung up performing all manners of acts of love from donating huge sums of cash at fundraisers and supporting projects in our local communities. It is in this election year that the incumbents are in a flush of being seen at every social event. The intent of politicians in such circumstances becomes questionable. The gratification is in being seen to be selfless or concerned, but the real motive is in getting that vote. It is not that they have a passion in sharing the blessing and joys of life with others or helping them. Their philosophy is to use charitable causes as a means to end – to win that election.
Is it wrong to publicize charitable services? Absolutely not. However, there is a very thin line on how it is interpreted. Promotion of the self through such services misguides the mission and purpose of such acts. The religious texts –such as the Christian Bible in Matthew 6.24 – condemn such .Our first and only intent of participating in such acts must always be driven by genuine compassion for society.