Days after Typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines, several adverts of campaigns for donations and relief goods ranging from concerts and variety performances, to leisure activities of running and dining (and practically any human activity or idea that can fill in the blank after the phrase “… for a cause”), filled every imaginable media. Particularly interesting was the special promos of several commercial establishments and private organizations, calling on people to purchase or patronize various products or services, because a percentage of the payment will benefit the latest calamity-stricken Filipinos.
Meditating upon these recent trends generates questions pertaining to some people’s notion of charity and compassion:
Do people need to be convinced to dine, run, or indulge in a self-gratifying activity in order to help other people? Is buying a piece of fried chicken, a specialty beverage, a value meal set or sending a text message a new form of philanthropy? Why do these enterprises or institutions have to raise relief out of those people who consume their product or service? Why can’t they just donate out of their own pockets or a portion (even just a tenth) of their revenue worth hundred thousands, millions or billions? Is it too much of a ‘loss’ on their ‘operational expenses’? If so, does this mean that charity has a price after all?
There may surface a plausible justification that consumers compel these interest groups to align with their sentiments, as they look for possible channels to help the recent typhoon survivors (This argument after all, can find its reinforcement in considering the objective reality that reveals the national and local governments’ continuing incompetence in matters of preventing or mitigating the impact of natural disasters). But why do such charitable efforts seem premised on a profit-oriented social contract? So people need to help businesses and private organizations earn so that they in turn can help the needy? Their charity is dependent on other people’s charity.
Sociological formulations of commodification (not commoditization) suggest that human actions and ideas are treated like items with price tags, implying that human relationships are reduced to commercial relationships. In a sense, human characteristics including emotions, feelings or sentiments become important for their assumed market value rather than their social value. Thus human qualities like charity, compassion, and generosity become significant because they can serve as catchy branding or marketing taglines. Can the same be said for the recent proliferation of so called ‘relief’ efforts?
Such musings point us further to more profound inquiries: how are people’s notion of charity and compassion, socially constructed? In relation to Ignatian ideals that this school tries to promote and inculcate to its students, and in a way to its employees, how is generosity socially determined in such extraordinary situations? As an annual Christian holiday that celebrates the ultimate expression of charity, compassion and generosity draws near, taking time to reflect on these questions would be appropriate, timely and rectifying.