Don’t Always Rely on Instinct

The heartbreaking photos from Haiti are compelling. How can you not help? In fact, most folks I know have been looking for effective ways to help. And, as they look, many find their instincts clash with reality. For example, some feel compelled to get on the first available plane to Port-au-Prince and DO something. But what? Unless you are trained in medical or emergency services, what will you do? Others instinctively feel that giving things must be superior to merely giving money. But is that true? Not according to the Haitian Embassy (pictured above):

Embassy officials and relief organizers say while packaged good donations are welcome, the best way to help the earthquake victims is with monetary contributions to reputable relief agencies. They argue that the damage to Haiti’s infrastructure is so great that it’s hard to know when and how donated goods will actually make it to the ravaged island. [emphasis added]

Big-hearted people of goodwill feel instinctively that this can’t be right.  But are they right?  If the picture of the Haitian Embassy is any indication, the gifts in kind will pile up in the United States until there is a reliable means of transporting them to Haiti and delivering them to the people in need.  (Assuming, of course, that these things can even be delivered before cold, wind and rain destroy them in their makeshift storage areas outdoors.)  This is hardly ideal.  In fact, this is a terrible waste of the wonderful human impulse to help those in need.

So, the first step is to get comfortable with the idea that giving money is, in fact, the most effective way for most of us to respond to the disaster in Haiti.  Then, be careful not to give into the impulse to give blindly.  Texting a donation may seem trendy, but is it the best thing to do?  Be sure you give to a charity that guarantees to send nearly all of your donation to Haiti rather than spending too much of it on administrative costs. (For guidance on this, see Charity Navigator.  Their four-star charities have good track records.)   And, while you’re at it, see if your employer is willing to make a matching donation. In this way you double the impact of your contribution — thereby maximizing the assistance that can be provided.

Sometimes even our instincts for good lead us astray.  The only known antidote is to gather information with an open mind and critical eye.  And then, when the evidence requires, question our instincts.

[Photo Credit:  Jonas Hosmer]

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3 thoughts on “Don’t Always Rely on Instinct

  • January 20, 2010 at 8:46 pm
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    Insightful observation on a subtle aspect of living effectively in an increasingly networked society and world; that is, learning to better understand and trust distant “networking centers” to more effectively apply knowledge, skills, relationships, and resources that we do not possess, on our behalf. It’s about the distributed nature of diverse concerns, resources, and knowledge across a network that provides greater overall resilience than we “do-gooders” were ever able to do in the past.

  • January 22, 2010 at 6:10 pm
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    Very astute comments indeed! More detailed information on why financial donations are the best way to help have been posted by Claire Durham, logistics officer with the British Red Cross: http://blogs.redcross.org.uk/emergencies/2010/0

    It is an interesting read!

  • January 22, 2010 at 11:10 pm
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    Very astute comments indeed! More detailed information on why financial donations are the best way to help have been posted by Claire Durham, logistics officer with the British Red Cross: http://blogs.redcross.org.uk/emergencies/2010/0

    It is an interesting read!

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