Tuesday 14 December 2010

Compassion VS Sentiment

I just read the very personal account of a lady who just started her blog about Orangutan charity work and it made me think about my own views, and how much they have changed over time. 

I feel that as I get older I toughen up. I  used to drive 40 miles with a little bird to the vet clinic in the hope that they could save it - what they couldn't - and I was devastated, mainly about the fact that the little one died alone in a scary car, rather then being surrounded by familiar bird voices, in a place it knew. These days I see death in an amazingly cool way. I have seen it a few times now, and on quite some of those occasions I was the cause of it.  It brings things into perspective. I killed mice to be able to feed them to an injured owl, I killed birds and mice with injuries from cat bites, I strangled a rabbit once, I called the vets to put down two of my cats when they were starting to suffer, and once I didn't and stayed with the little fella till the end. And the bothersome thing about it is not death, but the decision that I have to take. This is the hardest choice which life is throwing at us, this one split second when a decision is to be made for or against life, suffering, or death.

And do not believe that you can chicken out. I don't know a single person who didn't come across death during a lifetime, and not taking a decision can be the worst of all choices: On our way to a family visit my husband and I passed a run over cat and although this is about a quarter of a century ago I am still blaming myself that we didn't stop to see if there was hope.

Those are decisions to be taken on behalf of another creature, and one only can hope that all the facts needed to take this decision are in place. For this fraction of time one has to have a christal clear mind, and for that one cannot allow sentiment, but only compassion. Love for the creature? Yes!... Pity? Certainly not! ... Pity for oneself of having to perform the sad task of deciding? Even worse!

So why am I telling you this in the Charity section? If you would translate the word 'charity' back and forth in a German dictionary you would end up with the word 'compassion', while 'sentiment' very easily brings you to 'mawkishness', but never to 'charity'.

The suffering that one is hoping to soothe through charitable work often is a bit further away from home,  at least for me it is, and the more I feel it necessary to pursue the quest to keep a clear mind, or to get one in the first place. Charity work by it's very nature has a huge emotional stake, but I am no good to any charity if I am breaking into tears when strength is needed. 

So you will not see me forward all too gruesome pictures and articles, and I do not look at them even. Firstly, I know how cruel the world is, and I do not need to have it visualised to become involved. The more that I don't believe that having seen pictures will help prepare me, should I ever get into the real life situation.  Secondly, they trigger an emotional response that I don't find helpful. To be able to strike back, one needs to understand the opposition, and that requires an open and clear mind.

Hence I decided to treat charity like a business. I could just do my bit, scrape the few pennies I own and donate them. Feel good factor achieved, and off the hook.  I could easily donate the money for my eco-tourism Sumatra trip to charity and would even lower my carbon footprint. Or I could do the trip, add a bit of income to this village community that I am going to visit, admittedly would have a good time, and I could learn, I could take pictures, I could write stories, I could create art, and I could use all that to spread the word and hopefully  create more money, and most importantly more awareness for the charity.

Do I sometimes sound harsh in voicing those business point of views in regard to charity? Probably, and I am not saying that this approach is suitable for everybody. It is my way, and when it is my time to kick the bucket I am hoping that the judgement will be gentle, and that there will be somebody taking the right decisions for me.