In the fall of 2004, Austin Miller slept on the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, along with several others nestled in cardboard boxes and sleeping bags. Is Miller one of the Minneapolis homeless? Hardly. Miller is a senior at the University of Minnesota, and he was only one of many who took part in a sleep-over to raise awareness about the plight of the homeless. This is far from the only time this kind of stunt has happened. In each case, the goal was to “raise awareness” of the problem; in some cases there was an additional goal to raise money.
When you get down to it, isn’t this continuing quest to “raise awareness” really a sort of slap in the face to others? After all, what is the assumption these students are making? If the American people weren’t so stupid, they’d be fully aware of the problem, the way we enlightened college students are. But putting that aside, let’s cut right to the chase: how much did these students do to actually improve the plight of the homeless in Minneapolis? Austin Miller and his fellow University of Minnesota students didn’t actually feed or assist anyone; they were only successful in raising their own awareness that October nights in Minneapolis are cold. Nowhere in the article is there any explanation of how they improved the life or situation of even a single homeless person. But they did succeed in pointing the finger of accusation at benighted Americans. “What have you done for these poor people, America? Huh? HUH?”
Which brings us to the item which actually started this idea bouncing around in my head: I was listening to my Christmas music (in this case, The California Guitar Trio) and the John Lennon song Happy Xmas (War is Over) started playing. While the CGT version is all instrumental, the song lyrics start with “So this is Xmas / And what have you done.” Notice the focus? It’s not introspective, as in “what have I done?” Rather, this is again the finger of accusation: “What have you done, America? Huh? HUH?”
On December 26th, a magnitude 9 earthquake rocked Asia. Hours later, massive tsunamis struck the shores of Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and Indonesia. The death toll rose from 10,000 to 150,000 in the days that followed, and this number could rise even further. People the world over rushed to aid the stricken countries. President Bush joined with Australia, Japan and India in mobilizing money and aid packets, and distributing them. Within 48 hours of the earthquake, the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln was ordered to leave her dock at Hong Kong and participate in aid efforts. By January 1st, the Abraham Lincoln was anchored off the coast of Sumatra. But this is the wrong way to go about saving people–or so you would think if you listened only to people infatuated with the United Nations.
“I think this initiative from America to set up four countries claiming to coordinate sounds like yet another attempt to undermine the UN when it is the best system we have got and the one that needs building up,” said former British International Development Secretary, Clare Short. “Only really the UN can do that job. It is the only body that has the moral authority.” [emphasis mine] Ms. Short is basically pointing the finger of accusation at America and saying, “Hey! Stop doing our job better than we can!”
It is obvious from his actions that President Bush doesn’t see this tragedy as a vehicle for his political agenda. This is why there was no mad dash to make grandiose speeches from the White House about our nation mourning with Asia, blah, blah, blah. This is why President Bush invited both his father and President Clinton to take part in the fundraising efforts; these two former presidents have proven themselves quite capable of raising money, and at the moment, that is what is most important. President Bush even took some partisan hits from Democrats who have accused him of not caring enough to cut short his vacation. Clue to the clueless: the President is never on vacation. Even outside the White House, his staff keeps him updated and in touch, and his staff works 24-7. Did Bush need to be in Washington to get the Abraham Lincoln moving? All that required was a phone call and an order to the top brass. But because the President didn’t rush to emote for the cameras and shed crocodile tears on national TV, he is insensitive and freaky.
Jan Egeland, the U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, added his whiney voice to the finger-pointing naysayers: “It is beyond me why are we so stingy, really.” He also spoke for over 600 million people when he said that “[Western governments] believe that they are really burdening the taxpayers too much, and the taxpayers want to give less. It’s not true. They want to give more.” Do you see the finger of accusation? “Hey, America and Europe! Stop complaining about high taxes and cough up more!”
I wonder how much, if any, this Norwegian-born bureaucrat has personally contributed to the relief agencies. Or perhaps he feels he has done his share when he pays his taxes, considering that the government of Norway contributes 0.8% of its national income to aid.
What Egeland fails to mention is that Americans contribute vast amounts of charitable donations, but they do so privately, out of their own pockets. This is anathema to a big-government wonk like Egeland, but it is much more efficient for Americans (and everyone else) to make private contributions to charity than to do so through government taxation. In the U.S., over 75 cents out of every dollar taxed for welfare is consumed by the bureaucracy of the Welfare Department, leaving less than 25 cents per dollar for each intended recipient. That’s a pretty poor example of efficiency, but Egeland wants more of this type of spending. What does that say about his real concerns for the downtrodden?
Compare wasteful government spending with the way most charitable organizations use their donations. Charities are required to disclose how much of their donation money goes to help the poor and needy, and how much goes to the charity’s infrastructure. The more efficient a charity is with monies, the more people it can help. The LDS Humanitarian Services agency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses 100% of its donations to help those in need. That’s an excellent track record, and it is why I will continue to trust LDS Humanitarian Services with charitable donations.
It is easy for people to point the finger of accusation at others and demand accountability from them. But it is a more Christian idea to direct that inquiry inwardly: “what am I doing?” At the Last Supper, Christ told His disciples that one of them would betray Him. Did they mutter to one another, “I bet it’s Judas. He’s been acting pretty squirrelly lately”? No. Each of them looked inwardly, asking humbly, “Lord, is it I?” In times of need such as now, I believe it is most useful for me to take action, not to waste time pointing at other people and demanding that they act. That is why I don’t ask, “What have you done?” I cannot make anyone else do anything. Recognizing that I am only accountable for my own actions, I must instead ask myself, “What have I done?” All I can hope to do here is influence your thoughts. In the end, the only person I can change is myself.