*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Paul Vallely: A dwindling supply of human kindness

by
15 September 2017

Paul Vallely asks why the world is becoming less generous

ISTOCK

I ONCE stayed for a week with a family in northern Ethiopia who were reliant on food aid. One of the striking memories of my time with them was of the day that a beggar came to the door holding out a tiny metal cup. The mother of the house took it and, from their dwindling jar of grain, half-filled it. Generosity has little to do with riches.

So, what are we to make of the news that Britain has fallen out of the top ten in the international league tables of charitable giving and voluntary activity? According to the latest global report by the Charities Aid Foundation, the UK has dropped from eighth to 11th place.

The survey measures three things: the proportion of our income we give in charity; the hours of volunteering we do; and the number of random acts of kindness we do to strangers. The grim truth is that, by all three measures, the world has become less generous everywhere, apart from Africa.

Of course, this is just one survey, with a limited methodology. It surveys 146,000 people in 139 countries. But this is the eighth year that it has been run; so the relative positioning offers some indicator. Some 64 per cent of people in the UK said that they had given money to charity, which is five per cent down on last year; 58 per cent of us had helped a stranger: three per cent fewer; and volunteering fell by five points to 28 per cent.

I cannot help but think that there is some kind of connection, however tenuous, between this and Brexit. I am not saying that it is causal. But both might grow from the same sense of disenchantment with the wider world. Isolationism means drawing into ourselves in many different ways. The vote for Donald Trump’s “America First” ideology in the United States — which has also dropped three places (to fifth) in the table — is rooted in some kind of psychological retrenchment.

But it is equally difficult to disentangle significance at the top of the table. The people most likely to help a stranger (81 per cent) are to be found in Sierra Leone, perhaps a reflection of the fact that the Ebola virus recently overwhelmed the state’s health-care infrastructure. The table for volunteering is topped by Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, which has a participation rate of 55 per cent.

The top spot as the world’s most generous nation is the country that we used to call Burma. Myanmar came first in the global generosity table for the fourth year in a row. That result, the Charities Aid Foundation suggests, is because of the high proportion of Buddhists in the country. That is a bitter irony, coming, as it does, at a time when Buddhist identity politics are said to be behind what the United Nations this week called the “ethnic cleansing” of that country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.

How can we make sense of all this? Only by pessimistically concluding that, in general terms, the world is becoming an unkinder place. There is, as the prophet Jeremiah observed, nothing so devious as the human heart.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

 

Church Times/RSCM:

Festival of Faith and Music

26 - 28 April 2024

See the full programme on the festival website. 

Early bird tickets available

 

Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE

 

Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available

 

Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available

 

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

 

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)