“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?” - Luke 9:25 (New International Version)
Everything is big these days. We’ve got big business, big government, big media, big religion, big education, and blockbuster entertainment. Everything is so big it gives the rest of us the sense that we’re very small, institutional props to be used as vehicles for the institutions to become ever bigger. They constantly clamor for our attention. “I’ll protect you.” “I’ll be the champion of your cause.” “If you follow me I’ll bring you justice.”
Our experience tells us we should be wary, but we can’t resist. They pull us from both the left and the right. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s Huey Long or his modern counterpart promising us that “every man will be a king,” or some mega church superstar telling us our contribution to the cause will not only bring eternal bliss, but also a Florida time share.
It’s fascinating. They know it’s a shell game. We know it too. But we keep looking for the magic pea under that walnut shell.
Why are we such easy marks? I think it’s got something to do with the way we’re wired. We don’t like to feel small and we gravitate toward something that appears big and important. We get hooked and become what Eric Hoffer termed “true believers.” Once that happens we rarely, if ever, question what’s happening to us. If we did, I’m afraid we’d find they’re getting bigger and richer while we’re getting smaller and poorer.
How do they hook us? By cleverly disguising the three walnuts, one marked compassion, one marked meaning, and one marked a cause.
Compassion is almost always the easiest button to push.
A little over two years ago a devastating earthquake flattened much of Port au Prince, Haiti’s capitol. According to Haitian government estimates over 300,000 people died and nearly a million were displaced. The international response was almost immediate. The task of reconstruction was huge, but the willingness to respond was even greater. Billions of aid dollars were pledged. Compassion seemed to be the order of the day and we all felt good about it. There was even talk of fixing everything that has plagued Haiti for decades.
That was two years ago. You’d think that massive doses of compassion would change things. But that’s not the case. As the New York Times recently reported, “Haiti and its international donors were far behind in helping the hundreds of thousands still living in makeshift camps and the millions without formal jobs.” Billions have been raised, but very little aid has reached the people of Haiti. How could that be? The U.N.’s Nigel Fisher is just as puzzled as we are. “It's not so easy to track the NGO resources that were raised, and we guess that there were maybe $2 billion raised by NGOs around the world ... that has been difficult to track," he says.
I suspect once we pick up the “compassion” walnut there won’t be a pea in sight, which means some organizational shill is probably buying diamonds in Antwerp right now thanks to the generosity of widows who were donating their mites for what they thought was a good cause.