When Political Correctness Gets in the Way of Charity

03/28/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When I read last week that the cruise ships under the Royal Caribbean ownership were stopping in Haiti, I had the same immediate reaction that most people did: outrage. How insensitive! How disgusting! How shameful! Then I did something we tend to forget to do. I stopped and I thought about it. When I stopped reacting with my heart and started thinking with my brain, I actually came to a completely different conclusion; I was and am glad that the cruise ships are stopping in Labadee.

I know it sounds terrible. How could anyone with a conscience think frolicking in the sun in Haiti right now is appropriate in any way? Well, I will tell you. For those not familiar with Labadee, this is a private port city leased by Royal Caribbean for use as a tourist stop on select cruises. The people living there make their living off of the tourism from these ships. Some are employees of Royal Caribbean and some are native Haitians selling their wares in the local market. This is not a self-sustaining Haitian city. I have actually been to Labadee, Haiti so I have seen this with my own eyes. I'm not just buying what some press release is selling.

Like I said, when I stopped emoting and starting thinking, I realized that if ships stop going there, these people lose their income. They need their income for the obvious reasons but these people too are also trying to get help to their families in Port Au Prince (on the other side of Haiti). They need the ships to come and the tourists to spend their money. If cruise-goers feel that going out on a wave runner would be "offensive", then get off the ship, go to the market and buy indigenous products so that these people do not also become part of the terrible tragedy. We should let the residents of Labadee earn a fair living and have control over their lives and their choices. Imagine if you lived somewhere that was operated 100% off of tourism and people stopped coming out of some useless sense of decorum.

And whether or not Royal Caribbean is dropping supplies in Haiti while docked in an effort to save face, is up for debate for sure. However, regardless of the motive, they are dropping supplies. The scene in Port-Au-Prince is so desperate that I'm not sure it matters why it got there but just that it got there.

Trust me, my heart breaks for the people of Haiti. I cry when I watch the news. I have donated money and medical supplies and am currently looking for ways to donate my time as well. I'm outraged and it's hard not to be able to blame someone or something for such sadness and suffering. In spite of that natural reaction, we still need to stop and realize that being lachrymose does not go hand in hand with being charitable and "political correctness" does not put food in people's mouths. If we could get past what the appearance of charity should look like and start thinking about what is practical in the face of tragedy, we may make better long-term decisions that actually help people. Charity comes in many different forms and shouldn't be judged because you don't like the wrapping paper. That's just shortsighted thinking.

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