No Obligation To Give

Dec 1, 2006 | Posted by Scott Hughes, author of Achieve Your Dreams | Post a Comment

by Scott Hughes

A few weeks ago, my grandmother told me about the veterans’ charities that asked her for donations. She told me that she regularly gave to a specific veterans’ organization, but that other organizations continued to solicit her. She asked me, “if I give to one, I shouldn’t be obligated to give to the others, right?”

I responded, “you’re not obligated to give to any at all.”

A lot of problems plague the world, and a lot of people need help. However, we still need to respect the right of anyone to help or not help as they please. I define slavery as forcing someone to help. Enslaving others or robbing them cannot help our causes; it just creates needless conflict and enemies. Yes, we need people to help, but we have to ask and persuade them to help, not force them, because nobody has an obligation to help or give, neither morally nor legally.

Indeed, different people have different opinions about what constitutes ‘help,’ and these different people can choice to use their own money, body, labor, and time to help or not help as they see fit.

Everyone has their own moral judgments. Using these judgments against others has caused much conflict in the world. A wise man who we call Jesus said, “judge not lest ye be judged.” And, he said, “let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.” To have a positive effect, we need to focus our moral judgments internally. Focused externally, people tend to use their moral judgments to excuse violence and conflict, and to force their will on others. In contrast, we can use our moral judgments to direct our own actions and better ourselves, rather than harm or coerce others.

I personally avoid using the concept of morality at all, at least in the public light. I try to analyze and describe everything amorally.

Legally speaking, unfortunately many places in the world force people to help or give. For example, consider taxes. Taxation literally involves robbery.

Again, many preventable problems plague the world. For example, 16,000 children die of hunger every day. Just like those children, the world needs help. Nonetheless, we cannot force people to help out or give. Even ignoring my personal disgust with theft and slavery, such offensive coercion cannot effectively solve these problems.

Attacking and coercing people only angers and offends them. It creates conflict. It creates problems, instead of fixing them.

To solve the problems such as hunger, poverty, and non-meritocratic inequality, we must not try to legally force people to help. We can ask for help, but not demand it. We can persuade people, but not coerce them.

We must tolerate the inaction of others. ‘Tolerance’ doesn’t mean ‘like’ or ‘promote.’ ‘Tolerance’ just means allow. We must allow others to do what they wish, insofar as they do not harm anyone else. We need to focus on actually solving our problems, and we cannot do that if we intolerantly waste time and effort using offensive force to coerce people who mean us no harm.

We have every reason to legally obligate people not to offensively harm us or anyone. Similarly, we have every reason to use defensive force to stop people from offensively harming us or anyone. Still, we must recognize the difference between ‘harming’ and ‘not helping.’

People have every right not to help if they wish not to. People have every right not to give if they don’t want to. For example, if a person works and earns money, that person now owns that money and can do or not do with it what ever they want, insofar as they do not offensively harm anyone else. Similarly, a person can use their body, labor, and time anyway they please, insofar as they do not offensively harm anyone else. That’s freedom, and we cannot solve socioeconomic problems such as hunger and poverty if we fail to respect people’s freedom.

This isn’t about morality. This is about practicality and effectiveness. If we waste time bickering and battling with others to offensively force them to do what we think they “should” do, then we just create needless conflict and more problems.

We have serious and difficult issues that we need to address, and come up with well-though-out and effective plans to fix. We cannot succeed if we lazily attempt to use the big clumsy hand of an interfering government to rob or enslave others, or “punish” them for acting “immorally.”

Instead, we need to use an open-minded approach to persuade others to help. We need to discuss and address the concerns of others, not pathetically attempt to coerce them to our line-of-thought. Based on voluntaryism, we can create non-governmental organizations and implement agreeable initiatives to actually provide effective help to society and solve the problems facing us, such as hunger, poverty, and non-meritocratic social inequality.

These terrible problems tear my heart apart, to think of the innocent children dying in the agonizing pain and suffering of preventable hunger. Like so many others, I desperately wish to solve these terrible problems plaguing our society. Nonetheless, we must not let that desperation trick us into using offensive coercion. We cannot afford to make enemies of our peers. Instead of working against each other, let’s work with each other. Let’s respect the rights of others, and fight the problem not the people.

About The Author: In addition to this blog, Scott Hughes administrates the World Hunger and Poverty Forums, where you can discuss this article and poverty in general.

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About Scott Hughes

I am the author of Achieve Your Dreams. I also published the book Holding Fire: Short Stories of Self-Destruction. I have two kids who I love so much. I just want to be a good role model for them. I hope what I do here makes them proud of me. Please let me know you think about the post by leaving a comment below!

5 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Lauralee
    December 5th, 2006 at 12:36 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I agree. We need to do more.
    I designed my page around words like yours… Have you seen the, Tell Me Why Video? Very inspiring!!! I have it on my, about me section. I hope to make a diference.. Together, we will! Please visit…

  2. Nicole
    December 7th, 2006 at 3:50 pm #

    I think your thoughts are somewhat misguided. The issue isn’t about whether fortunate people ought to “help” the less fortunate. It isn’t about charity, forced or unforced.

    It is about analyzing our large-scale human institutions– institutions which humans design and implement through public policy. It’s about people waking up when the system in place doesn’t serve them, but rather forces them into a life of servitude, impoverishment, hunger, disease, and death. Its about the people themselves refusing to participate in their own degradation, and forging alternatives that are more humane. This has nothing to do with charity, and everything to do with justice.

  3. Nicole
    December 7th, 2006 at 4:25 pm #

    I also wanted to add, though, that I agree with your view that the problem of hunger needs to be taken out of the realm of morality and dealt with squarely in the realm of practicality. But this practicality must be informed by a theoretical and systemic understanding of the causes of hunger and poverty. “Practicality” can’t be used as a reason to avoid studying the problem and asking, “Why are these people hungry?” Because the answer to this question will lead you into larger questions– it is not because there isn’t enough food in the world.

    One further note: I question your notion that we must tolerate people’s inaction. I am not saying I agree or disagree, just that such an understanding of tolerance is highly questionable and open to debate.

    Additionally, you mention the imperative that we avoid “coercion” when discussing global hunger. We can’t coerce people to share their wealth. Yet could you not view the fact of an economic system that is set up in such a way as to allow a wealthy individual to spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars on luxuries while others are restricted from accessing that wealth even though without it they die, as a system of coercion? The fact that our economic system allows individuals to hoarde wealth coerces others into living lives riddled with disease, hunger, dire poverty, and avoidable death.

  4. Laksiri Fernando
    December 17th, 2006 at 5:58 am #

    Dear Scott,

    I saw your nice comments about my article on “Human Rights Day and World Poverty” in the Asian Tribune only now. Thank you very much for your comments.

    I also read your article on “No Obligation to Give.” I think I agree with the spirit of your article, people should not be forced or compelled to help.

    But I agree more with your grandmother. She must be feeling morally obliged, all along, to contribute to charities, but not beyond her capacity or not under external compulsion.

    Of course there are other reasons that pursuade people to help others. But morality to me is the highest.


  5. AnnieElf
    December 26th, 2006 at 3:14 pm #

    Thank you for visiting my blog, Scott. I appreciate your comment and your solitarity with the Pope and paranthetically with all people of good will. I think you are more spirit-driven in your heart than you might imagine. After all, you are doing what Jesus asked of us – “I was hungry and you fed me. I was naked and you clothed me.”

Children suffering from Poverty