ALL THOSE internet stories cropping up against those of us who expressed sadness at the conflagration that consumed Notre Dame remind me how immersed we are in public shaming. I resent those stories and condemn public shaming. How dare anyone tell me or you – or anyone for that matter – what we should care about.
Pictures of the church alongside pictures of starving children somewhere in the world are meant to evoke guilt, and if that’s not enough, people spell it out: How dare you care about a church (which by the way represents colonialism and racism to them – not history, architecture or religion) and pledge billions of dollars to rebuilding it and not put the same amount of money into saving the starving children of the world?
After a fleeting feeling of guilt, I thought, but wait, I am doing everything I can do on a daily basis for a cause: prisons. I have raised a lot of money and dedicated a decade of my life so far to this cause, and I’m not entitled to feel sadness for the Notre Dame Cathedral?
I don’t even understand how people are comparing the two. The church takes a fixed amount of money to restore. World poverty is an ongoing political issue that requires fighting governments as well as poverty. People pour money into the fight against poverty every day. It’s a bottomless pit. They speak out about the political plight that causes these issues, and they keep speaking and they keep giving even when governments turn a deaf ear or better yet steal the money or the resources donated to help these people.
We all know this, but we keep giving, a little here and a little there, because when it comes to the problem of starving children in this world, it is a worthy cause. So hear this: I want to feel free to care about history, architecture, religion and righteous causes the way I want to feel about them, and I don’t want to be subjected to public shaming.
Better yet, I want to know how much the people who stir up such sentiments and write such stories comparing churches to starving children contribute to making this world a better place. Why don’t you disclose in those stories what you have done besides knock out irresponsible stories stirring up public sentiment meant to guilt people for caring about something in this world?
It’s just all grossly unfair – especially since the people who contribute to ongoing causes usually remain behind the scenes quietly making their contributions for altruistic reasons. They don’t seek publicity for giving to such humanitarian causes, and there is little focus on a daily basis for an ongoing problem like there is for a very visible one in the news like the conflagration that consumed much of Notre Dame Cathedral.
I know because I estimate – probably underestimate – that in the past ten years I have brought nearly $2 million into prisons – money and payment in kind – all of which has come from concerned individuals, book clubs, professionals willing to donate services and time, other NGOs and grants. Do we not deserve the right to care about the Notre Dame Cathedral?
Make no mistake about it, the public shaming that goes on through the internet is no different from when we used to herd people like cattle into the public square to hurl insults at them or dole out some form of public punishment.
A few years ago, my friend Anne Gyory sent me one of the most useful and important books I have read in the last few years, entitled So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Robson. It’s a book about how we’ve taken all the freedom afforded us through the internet and channeled it into creating guilt.
Yes, you have the right to feel that the Notre Dame Cathedral is not worthy of being saved or that the plight of refugees or starving children is more worthy of your time, money and sentiments, but you don’t have the right to guilt others for what they care about.
The fact of the matter is those stories have produced no statistics that show people are pumping more into rebuilding the Notre Dame Cathedral than they have in supporting the cause of world poverty. Consider that the next time you read such stories, and give from your heart to whatever cause you want.