Saturday, May 12, 2007

Saving the Puppy

I saved an op-ed piece from Thursday's New York Times entitled Save the Darfur Puppy.

In this column, Nicholas Kristoff describes recent psychological studies which confirm that people will contribute more eagerly to a cause with one face than to a faceless cause - or, a cause with thousands of faces. Here's a snippet from what I snipped:

In one experiment, psychologists asked ordinary citizens to contribute $5 to alleviate hunger abroad. In one version, the money would go to a particular girl, Rokia, a 7-year-old in Mali; in another, to 21 million hungry Africans; in a third, to Rokia - but she was presented as a victim of a larger tapestry of global hunger.

Not surprisingly, people were less likely to give to anonymous millions than to Rokia. But they were also less willing to give in [a] third scenario, in which Rokia's suffering was presented as part of a broader pattern.

People can relate to one starving child, but it's hard to comprehend thousands.

It so happened that a day earlier I had skimmed a book called From Baghdad, With Love, which chronicles one soldier's efforts to save an abandoned puppy he found in Iraq. Great pains were taken by this soldier and others to save this puppy, which included smuggling the needy canine across borders and abandoning protocol.

At the end of the book, the author seems to admit that this tremendous degree of effort to save a puppy seemed lopsided, considering the degree of human suffering in the country. But, he concluded, at least I saved something.

There are many lessons here. Fund-raisers need to understand the psychology of giving. But all of us need to understand our own psychology, and ethics, as relates to what we are willing - and able - to care about. We have a finite capacity to comprehend, and to care about, the world's needs - as much as we would like to think otherwise. The Sports section is more popular than the International pages.

I think about Jesus, however, who the Bible says "came to seek and save the lost" and "gave his life as a ransom for many." I think about the famous passage that explains, "For God so loved the world..." Here is one who comprehends the world's plight; here is one who cares, who acts, who demonstrates love in spite of the scale.

I also think about how, as a young person, I could care less about anyone, human or canine, other than myself. And I think about how, after meeting the Savior described above, my capacity to care grew much larger. My capacity to give grew much larger. Yet it's still nothing to boast about, so I instead must boast in him.

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