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Toxic Charity: A Thought-Provoking Challenge

[caption id="attachment_967" align="alignright" width="200"]Kelly Litt Kelly Litt[/caption] Earlier this month Catholic Social Services held its event "Breakfast with the Bishop." Robert Lupton, the keynote speaker, spoke about one of his books, Toxic Charity. His presentation was powerful and challenging, and coupled with the reading of his book in its entirety, has left me with much to consider. The major premise of his book is the assertion that often charity can actually cause more harm than good. He explains in his book that:

The food we ship to Haiti, the well we dig in Sudan, the clothes we distribute in inner-city Detroit - all seem like such worthy efforts. Yet those closest to the ground - on the receiving end of this outpouring of generosity -quietly admit that it may be hurting more than helping. How? Dependency. Destroying personal initiative. When we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them. (Lupton 3)

Lupton claims that some charity work, through its disempowering nature, is actually destroying human dignity rather than preserving it. Lupton notes that everyone has talents and resources to bring to the table, and truly effective charity is reciprocal that all can participate in. Through that, there is no loss of dignity. Lupton's message, and perhaps his warning, is difficult to grasp and accept and has stirred up much controversy. How could well-intentioned charity work be of harm? He explains further that we must differentiate crisis situations from chronic needs. Immediate charity during natural disasters, in situations of war and turmoil, or other moments of immediate crisis necessitate charity. However, if we treat chronic needs such as hunger, lack of educational opportunities, or inequality as crisis situations, we risk perpetuating the situations rather than working to bring them to an end. Chronic needs must be looked at through a lens of systemic change. Through the book, Toxic Charity, Lupton informs the reader that for charity to truly be of service, it needs to be coupled with systemic change work to uncover the root of the issue and work to make a long-term, lasting solution to benefit all and preserve human dignity. I find Robert Lupton's book challenging, frustrating, and inspiring all at the same time. Perhaps it is time we begin looking at charity and social justice through a new lens, realizing that the two must work together. This book has the ability to raise consciousness and stir up discussion, which is exactly where change can begin.

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