Haiti Disaster: Why You Should Give In Order To Help Yourself

That moment at the concert where everyone hold...
Image by Dr Stephen Dann via Flickr

Are your fingers hovering over the keys? Did you even go so far as to get out your wallet and look at your credit card? But then there were those little voices in your head, weren’t there? Not the kind that succumb to Abilify, maybe, but evil, portentous voices nonetheless. The kind of voice that says, “yeah, but those people are dirt poor already. Giving a few bucks, now that it’s too late, isn’t going to fix a damn thing in that godforsaken country.” Or, “didn’t the Red Cross bungle the last disaster? They’re all corrupt, these programs.” Or, worse, it might be a voice that says, “hey, I remember that rude Haitian cab driver in New York. They come here, take jobs, what do I owe those people?”

Or, instead, for so many of us, it’s a voice that says, “yeah, but I haven’t spent twenty bucks on myself – not for a splurge – in God knows how long. Who knows when I’ll get that job?”

So why, exactly, should you use your splurge on the people of Haiti? Personally, I believe hopelessness is contagious. It’s a virulent disease that spreads rapidly. Despair and destruction and the voices of the lost infect us. Even from a distance. To watch and do nothing is to forfeit a bit of your own joy. If nothing else, it takes emotional energy to ignore the pain of others, and the only way to sustain that energy is by feeding and nurturing anger and frustration and contempt. We are forced to justify our own indifference when we deliberately close the door on suffering of Haiti’s magnitude.

But giving, now giving…giving, even a teensy bit, is a form of wellness. Giving of your time, or a bit of your money, or your voice in social media, or some volunteer hours, or a pint of blood – all those things crack the hard wall of smothering despair and anger and contempt we build around ourselves. It cracks, and light comes in, we open to the world around us.

Giving is lighting a match. It takes a bit of effort, a gritty strike to squelch those voices and then you feel the warmth. Even if your contribution is tiny, it joins with others and altogether we become a stadium filled with lighters, a veritable retina-searing billboard of micro-energy LEDs that illuminate not only our own inner goodness, but a group effort that stands as a beacon to others, no matter what their lonely individual plight. Because hope, too, is contagious.

More and more, science is discovering that it is not enough just to eradicate the bad. If you try to destroy virulent germs, doing so can leave a void, and, all too often, another pathogen just as bad, or worse, moves into that void. And grows. Instead, for better outcomes, you need to nurture the good too. Nothing makes it more difficult for badness to take hold, than a culture of beneficial organisms, growing and working and thriving together.

Studies also show that our emotional health is somewhat similar. Altruism is associated with better life satisfaction, no matter what the circumstances (and here). The benefits of altruism persist, even among those who have been victimized themselves, even the most traumatized among us. Altruism is also associated with what’s called more self-efficacy – in other words, when you give to others, you are more empowered to help yourself. And altruism is even associated with not just a better life, but a longer life. Giving to others is a gift you give yourself. It is a form of personal wellth that you can invest and grow.

See, giving to Haiti is a splurge. Go ahead. Indulge yourself.

Go here to see where you can donate (confession: since I went to medical school with Paul Farmer, I’m a bit biased towards Partners in Health, as well as Doctors Without Borders). Got no money? How about spreading the word – use your social media to twitter, email, and FB awareness, and poke your representatives to do something. Or how about giving the Red Cross a boost by donating some blood, so they can free up more resources in other areas (hey, donating blood can help your heart disease risk!). What do you think? Got an “I gave and I feel better” story to share? Do you have more tips for those you want to give? Share in the comments section – and keep up on the latest health issues in the news, and healthcare reform insanity/hilarity by signing up for a Doc Gurley RSS feed with the tiny orange button at the top. Look for future weekly Dodging Death articles here at Doc Gurley – discover the weird, the wacky and the everyday symptoms you want to know about, as well as practical expert tips on staying well. And do you want to be on the inside, fast track of news and tips? Get on the Twitter bandwagon and follow Doc Gurley! Also check out Doc Gurley’s joyhabit and iwellth twitter feeds – so you can get topic-specific fun, effective, affordable tips on how to nurture your joy and grow your wellth this coming year.

Got a thingie on your doohickey? Or are you pondering how to tell your doctor he’s a jerk? Send your burning healthcare questions to Doc Gurley by emailing docgurleyatgmaildotcom. Doc Gurley cannot answer every question, and she cannot practice medicine through a keyboard (not even with her stethoscope pressed firmly against the monitor) but be assured – your questions will be kept strictly confidential and identifying traits are changed.

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