Well-Intentioned Charity May Be Overboard

by admin on August 25, 2011

Fellow E-hellions, I feel a bit bad about calling out this faux pas (if it is one), because I know it’s essentially a well-intentioned effort by well-meaning people to garner support for a friend in tragic difficulties.  But the whole phenomenon seems to me to be just so hideously tacky on so many levels—and this is the second or third time this year that I’ve encountered it at my workplace—that I think it belongs in Ehell as a warning to other well-meaning people who may be tempted to follow the trend. If I’m wrong about that, feel free to go ahead and rip me a new one (with your customary politeness, of course).

Here’s the story.  Today I received the following (heavily censored) mass email sent to all employees at my workplace:

“Dear [Workplace] Community: “[Colleague Name,] dear friend to many of us at [Workplace], has recently been diagnosed with [Name of Serious Illness]. She is in the process of receiving treatments, which has been very difficult on both her and her husband… [Details of family connections, diagnosis and treatment suppressed]. “In the meantime, we would like to show our support. Prescriptions, medical expenses and travel costs are just a few of the expenses they are facing, and we would like to help. “Please help us in sending [Colleague and Spouse] our best wishes for a speedy recovery by signing a giant get well card. The card is located at [Workplace Location]. “In addition, please consider helping financially.  Join our very own [Other Colleague] and his band [Band Name] at [Local Music and Dining Establishment] at [Date and Time].  There will be a collection box, a 50/50 raffle and a raffle of donated items, which will be available for viewing during dinner hours.  All of the proceeds will go straight to [Colleague and Spouse] to help offset some of the medical expenses they are facing. “And if you or anyone you know would like to donate a service or merchandise to raffle, please contact [Name of Contact Person]. “So come out and have some fun.  Let’s raise the roof and raise some money to help support [Colleague and Spouse] during this difficult time in their lives. “Sincerely, [Names of Well-Meaning Co-workers]”

First of all, am I just crazy, or is there something horribly incongruous in the message “Hey everybody, [Beloved Colleague] has cancer!  Come out and have some fun!”?  I don’t happen to know this particular co-worker  personally, but if I did, finding out about her serious illness would NOT inspire me to go out to a local bar and “raise the roof”.  Heck, even without knowing her personally, I’m pretty depressed to read about her predicament.  Who on earth would enjoy the idea of using somebody else’s life-threatening health crisis as an excuse to party or as an opportunity to win a raffle item?

Secondly, while I deeply sympathize with families who are feeling the strain of a serious illness financially as well as in other aspects of their lives, aren’t colleagues and employers supposed to address this issue by means of official employee benefits rather than by randomly passing the hat?  We’re lucky enough at our workplace to have a pretty good health insurance policy for employees, and many of us have made compromises on salary levels and other employment perks in order to have a high-quality benefits package that is available to all of us.  If our employee medical coverage is massively inadequate for employees with serious illnesses (and I know that hardly any insurance policy will cover all expenses of a serious illness, which is deplorable), then by all means let’s take action to remedy that.  But the idea of trying to fill the coverage gaps for individual colleagues by soliciting cash handouts from co-workers who may never even have met them just seems really undignified. And it also seems rather unfair to other co-workers who may also be facing major expenses associated with serious illness in their families but prefer to keep it a private matter.  Should we really consider it acceptable to have our well-meaning co-workers blabbing the details of our private medical and family issues to all and sundry in our workplace, and arranging public entertainment events to spotlight our problems and our need for monetary help?  Is somebody who finds that appallingly distasteful just being a mean old unsympathetic grinch?

That said, I do think the idea of a giant get-well card that all interested co-workers can sign is nice.  Saying “Hey everybody, [Beloved Colleague] is going through tough times and needs your money!” may be tacky, but saying “Hey everybody, [Beloved Colleague] is going through tough times and needs your good wishes!” seems thoughtful and sweet.  If [Well-Meaning Co-workers] had left it at that, I wouldn’t have written this letter.    0719-11

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