I wrote recently about my disillusionment with the modern way of giving, noting en passant that sponsorable feats are ‘subject to worthiness inflation, that is, to justify sponsorship you must come up with ever more wacky or onerous tasks. It won’t be long before there’s a charitable foundation for the children of people who’ve died on fund-raising trips’. Well, this may have been a joke of sorts even though it was based on observation of people doing frankly stupid things for charity, but today I discover that one American, Richard Swanson, died after being hit by a truck while attempting to dribble a football to Brazil for the opening of the World Cup, to benefit a football charity.
The Guardian article reads like it’s April 1st, with lines like ‘Swanson spent Monday night in Lincoln City, where he was able to soak in a hot tub and eat a gourmet breakfast’, and ‘Police said Palmer’s soccer ball was recovered’. But it’s this that really says it all:
Friends were talking about creating a foundation in Swanson’s memory and sending his two sons to Brazil for the World Cup, Schwesinger said. “The hardest thing is he was so young,” he said. “Just today we were planning his surprise birthday party for Sunday. He was so young, so full of life, so excited by the journey he was on. To be taken from us so soon is really heartbreaking.”
I don’t want to sit down and count the people who’ve died or damaged themselves raising money, but I do want to note that it’s getting silly. More than one friend has said that simply running a marathon isn’t enough – and I know of one friend of a friend who set himself the task of running 30 marathons in 35 days. Now that’s simply not healthy.
It seems as if charity has fallen foul of the great debilitating myth of capitalism: if the increase in profits isn’t increasing, you’re making a loss. Exponential growth in a finite system can only be achieved temporarily, and at the cost of destroying the system by exhausting it of resources. When the system’s resources are individuals, we have a problem.
Doing stupid things for charity uses up a phenomenal amount of energy, and is increasingly often ending in disaster. Being hit by a truck while dribbling a football along a road is, I’m afraid to say, a really pointless waste of a life. If it were a twelve-year old who’d died like this, we’d be saying ‘stupid child’ (though we’d say it quietly, because people would get upset), and ‘what were his parents thinking’?
Doing dangerous things is our right as adults, because it’s our life, our body we put on the line, but when the danger is there to attract publicity, to attract funding, then one has to wonder at the ethics of encouraging this behaviour through sponsorship.
People? Find another way.