A truly unselfish act is a rare and precious thing when performed by an individual, let alone by an entire community. When thousands of volunteers came together in San Francisco to realize--literally--the dream of five-year-old leukemia survivor and "Batkid" Miles Scott, it sent a ripple of joy around the world that made us all smile. Or at least it should have.
It's a real challenge not to be dismayed at comments such as this one, which popped up in my Facebook news feed the next day: "Make a Wish Foundation is kinda BS maybe? Seems like a bunch of feel good donor-bait stunts. Shouldn't the priority be to send money to save the lives of children in places where they are endangered by totally preventable diseases? Anti-malaria nets are really cheap."
We all understand that fighting malaria is one of innumerable critically important causes. But the logic of the remark, which suggests that Make-a-Wish has used Miles Scott as an excuse to misdirect funds and spurn human lives, all in the name of publicity, is spurious to the point of offense.
Here are five reasons why.
1. This kind of action produces tangible results. Miles Scott's story brings hope to millions of others, especially children, who are facing circumstances similar to his. I am no doctor, but my sense of the conventional wisdom is that the prognosis generally improves when the patient wants to be well. Moreover, Friday's events have dramatically increased the profiles of both childhood leukemia and Make-a-Wish, which means that more sustained attention--and more money--will be brought to bear on these causes. (This is already happening.)
2. Top-down prioritization of charitable spending is a losing proposition. For the sake of argument, suppose the fight against malaria were generally understood to be the most efficient such cause, both monetarily and in terms of the number of lives affected. Does this mean that victims of AIDS, hunger, or genocide should just suck it up, limping along without assistance until malaria is eradicated? Who decides, and how, which charities are not worth our money? Perish the thought that any of us should have to tell one small sick child that his dreams just won't be a priority until we've cured the world's ills. The fact is that we must (and can) champion all of these causes, fighting not only for human life, but also for the quality of that life.
3. If you still feel compelled to sacrifice someone's joy in the name of some more "worthy" cause, then sacrifice your own, not Miles Scott's. Stop blurting half-baked Facebook status updates whilst sipping your six-dollar cappucino. Maybe skip the next exorbitantly-priced Xbox game. Think twice before spending hundreds on a concert or sporting event. Instead of condemning the generosity that drives how others allocate their resources, consider how you allocate your own. If you'd rather support a different cause, feel free; but spare Miles Scott your so-called practicality.
4. Miles Scott is not the only beneficiary. The thousands who came together in San Francisco forged a special bond. Everyone, from police officers to city officials, from journalists charged with producing the day's faux newspaper to anonymous supportive faces in the crowd, must have worn a smile as the day's events unfolded. For weeks to come, they will share warm, knowing glances with friends and neighbors. Miles Scott galvanized this community in ways that, while unseen and immeasurable, are sure to have a profound effect on the thoughts and actions of those impacted. This can only be for the good.
5. Charity isn't about "makers" and "takers," it's about giving. Donors to Make-a-Wish know perfectly well where their money is going, and we don't hear them complaining. By exercising our generosity in ways like this, we assert how much we value our fellow humans and are willing to make sacrifices for them. The notion that Miles Scott, Make-a-Wish, or even all of San Francisco have somehow abused their fellow citizens' trust and resources is such a cynically skewed perspective that it stretches credulity.
Generosity is powerful. Say what you will about the practical value of what an entire community did for Miles Scott. But we don't need a lesson in financial planning--there is no dearth of capable accountants. What we need is more widespread practice of--more active investment in--empathy and compassion. Five-year-old Miles Scott, alter-ego of the Batkid, reminds us not to squander our chances to find joy in our common humanity, sharing our struggles and successes in equal measure. For that we owe him more than our charity. We owe him our gratitude.