Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Not For Me

Years ago I donated to the Hospital for Sick Kids. I started after the 2004 tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people around the Indian Ocean. There were a lot of tsunami charities that year, and I thought it was probably a pretty bad year for fundraising for other charities as a result, so I called up Sick Kids and signed up for a monthly payment.

They used to send me these little cards in the mail with pictures of kids who had beaten cancer because of their research and treatment. There may have been things other than cancer, but that doesn't really matter. The card would have a smiling kid who looked sick - usually very thin - but happy and a short paragraph telling me how my donations were helping.

I called them and asked me to stop sending the cards to me.

I can't tell you what was so upsetting about getting those cards. Maybe I didn't like to look at pictures of children who beat cancer because they called to mind visions of the many children who don't beat cancer. Maybe I found it obnoxiously sycophantic. Whatever it was, those cards gave me a visceral negative reaction and I didn't want them, but they kept coming. I assume their system simply didn't have an "opt out of mailouts" box. Eventually I decided to stop giving them money because I just didn't want the cards anymore.

I know I can give money to sick kids without giving them my address, that isn't the point.

They send those cards out because they have to. If you want people to give you money, you really have to shill. You have to fawn over people and tell them how great it is. It's the same thing on a Twitch stream as it is for a major charity.

Things that motivate other people give me a fight or flight response. Things that make other people happy make me miserable. At the time I wished they would stop sending out the cards, but the reality is obviously that they make orders of magnitude more money because of the cards than they lost by sending me the cards. I'm certain that it would cost the more money to administrate a system that allowed people to opt out of receiving the cards than they were getting from me, and probably most than they would get from everyone who felt the same as I did.

I am told that I should stand up for my own feelings more, but this is a story of me standing up for my feelings. A story about me deciding not to give money to a charity to help sick children because it was upsetting. Economists like to say "people respond to incentives" but no matter what incentive you set up, there will be someone out there who responds in the opposite way you intended. So what do you do when you realize you are the person who lives in opposite land and that a vast swath of things that make you feel angry and upset are just plain good things?

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