Philanthropy comes in two flavors. One is where you make a lot of money doing whatever it is that you do, and then spend a large part of it in directly helping other people. Bill Gates is a philanthropist of this kind. The second kind is where you collect money from a large number of people and put it to good use. Organizational charities do philanthropy of this kind. So do spiritual leaders, like the god men of India.
I am a skeptic, so I find fault with both kinds of philanthropy. About people like Bill Gates, I complain of their unethical business practices and corrupt corporate policies that got them the money in the first place. About the second kind, especially about the charities associated with spiritual figureheads, I rant against their luxurious lifestyles and barely moral activities that sit uncomfortably with their professed austerity and philanthropy. But I have to ask myself, am I doing anything constructive with all my whining? Worse, am I actually dong some harm, a disservice to humanity?
Let’s take a concrete, if hypothetical, example. Let’s say a guru collects $100 from a million people in the name of charity or spirituality. He keeps ten million for himself and for his family’s business, which is dishonest and deserving of our collective whining. Of the 90 million left, fifty goes wasted through organizational corruption and misuse. Again, we will complain about it. But at least 40 million gets spent in helping the poor, building charity hospitals, schools, and doing other good stuff. Now we have a real dilemma. At least, I do. Should I denounce the guru since he stole ten million and wasted fifty? Or should I support him with my own $100 because he managed to help others to the tune of 40 million? After all, it is something I would never be able to do by myself.
It gets worse when we dig a bit deeper and unearth other disturbing facts. For instance, I have read a lot of bad things about Mother Teresa, how she believed that suffering is good for the soul, how keeping her poor costed more money than letting her be rich etc. But she inspired a large number of kind and selfless people to do amazing work for the less fortunate. About Sai Baba, I watched a BBC program detailing his homosexual misconduct. And I have direct experience with the follies of other gurus as well.
I guess the question we will have to ask ourselves is this: is the world a better place because of these philanthropists and their activities, although some of them may be self-serving? Perhaps I should keep my judgements and reservations to myself, as the the quote in the title picture advises me to. Then again, if I’m not to condemn anybody for whatever evil I see in them, how am I to applaud them for the good I see in them? Being judgmental — is it okay only when it is politically correct?