Friday, October 8, 2010

Parkinson's Disease: The Dilemma of Donating to the Cause

Acrobats and auctioneers, black ties and ballroom gowns, speeches and singing, lights and liquor. They were all there that gala evening. Entertaining all the while, we encouraged, or even inveigled, the well-dressed crowd to give to the cause. It was a good cause. A great cause. I could not be more motivated to see it supported. It was for Parkinson's. Money is needed to find a cure for the millions slipping down the steep slope of suffering. And to save others not yet diagnosed from a similar fate.
So why did I feel awkward? Why was I conflicted? It was probably just me, but that niggling question grew that evening until, like Brer Rabbit stuck in the tar, I could not free myself of it. It was a bothersome boomerang of discomfort. My parents, who were far from well-off, not only gave sacrificially to church and charity but made sure their children understood the need to do likewise. For all of my adult life I have been involved in helping to raise money for, and giving to, worthy causes.

What do you give money to? Why? I am ashamed to admit that often I give out of pity, guilt or pressure. Maybe that is acceptable if the cause is worthy. But why the angst about raising money for PD?

Walking out of that posh hotel, past the mahogany lobby furniture, the doorman unnecessarily aided my exit into the chilly night. The autumn air struck me at the same time as a foul-breathed man poked his grease-stained baseball cap at me. "Spare any change?", he slurred. "No. Sorry", I lied and quickened my pace. Then the answer to my troubling question struck me. I was afraid of being that beggar with the baseball cap. While my cap had the words "For Parkinson's Research" on it instead of "Joe's Towing and Storage", how was I different from the panhandler?

If we who have been struck with PD are raising money just so that we can be cured of a future of slurred speech and staggering steps then perhaps we are no different. There is a danger in this business of putting our hands out with self-serving purpose. Is there a conflict of interest? But perhaps this is the cynic speaking.
Does it not depend on more than the worthiness of the cause or how money is raised? Surely it must depend on the motivation of the donation-seeker. If we knew that, no matter how much money was raised, only future generations would benefit, would we have the same spirit of enthusiasm and effort? Self-interest or sacrifice for others? Honesty, integrity and sincerity are the hallmarks of our motivation.

The experience of the beggar outside the ballroom proved to be a freeing experience for me. I felt that I had discovered the secret to charity. It begins in the heart. While motivation is rarely pure and not easily discerned, even for oneself, we are simply responsible for skillfully but sincerely sharing the need from our hearts. Manipulation ultimately fails.

It may be naive and unenforceable, but perhaps the guiding principle is: Ask for the right cause, the right way with the right attitude.

PS.  For those of you that have been accustomed to pictures in this blog, it appears my technical ineptitude has fouled up that function, so the great photos chosen for this piece will have to follow.


  1. well written again Bob!

    good job portraying the importance of prospective that is needed towards a challenging profession

  2. Paul;

    Thanks for your consistent encouragement.