Sir Nicholas Winton died this week.
If you want to know who he was and what he did, read a bit about him at The Power of Good.
He rescued around 669 children from the Nazi death camps. It was only when his attic was being cleared that the story of what he had done became known.
Now I’m sitting here in my safe(ish) European home wondering what difference I could make to the world today.
I give to charity and support the arts when I can.
But I wish I could do so much more.
Save save save
I’ve worked with charity clients over the years, and a brief sometimes talks about ‘compassion fatigue’.
The donor sees starving children, earthquake victims, disaster survivors. Endangered leopards, elephants, whales. Orphaned migrants, disease sufferers, campaigns for cancer cures.
‘Compassion fatigue’ inoculates the brain against the constant barrage of horror and despair.
‘You can’t help everyone’, we might say to ourselves.
We feel weak. Powerless.
And we have to look away.
To try and cut through this I wrote some fund raising packs which put a price on items for donors:
e.g. Just £1 can buy life-saving rehydration treatment for a child – £10 can buy an emergency ration pack for a family – £20 can buy a sleeping bag and warm clothing for a displaced orphan
This worked well when writing for humanitarian aid; similar targeted ‘price tag’ donations also helped raise funds for worldwide animal charities.
People are so generous, many actually opted to give a higher value gift, because the price seemed so low and the benefit so high.
Save only one
What worked even better was when we stopped talking about saving 1000s of lives.
Of helping ‘1000s of children’.
Our brains can’t envision that many children.
We can’t see how we (little old ‘me’) can possibly save that many children.
We aren’t all heroes like Mr Winton.
Most of us can’t just drop everything and get on a plane and plan a mass evacuation, or airlift into a jungle to set up an emergency hospital.
We’ve got work, for one thing. And our own families to care for.
Yet still, some of us feel at the back of our minds that we do want to DO something.
To make a difference that could help make sense of our time in this world.
So, instead of writing about saving 1000s of children, I wrote about saving just one.
Because that seemed possible.
I imagined it like this.
If I was eating with my family and a hungry child was at the table, I would without doubt make sure I put a piece of bread or fruit onto his or her plate.
I could really imagine doing that.
I would be directly helping that visible child, at that moment.
I could also imagine how I might stretch out a family meal so I could feed an extra child.
I could stretch my imagination further, and think about offering that ragged, frightened child the chance of clean, warm clothes and a safe, dry place to sleep.
And know I’d made a real difference to at least one person who needed help.
Us humans can be the most wonderful humanitarians, given the chance.
Here’s an amazing clip when Sir Nicholas Winton realised the difference he’d made to the world. (Tissues ready).
*** STOP PRESS *** The erudite Rory Sutherland has just blogged about giving to charity, and it’s related to what I was trying to say (although he’s done a much better job than I ever could). Giving to people without a charity go-between