Saturday, February 14, 2015

Storytelling for Change: On Manipulation

Someone in a Storytelling for Change forum talked about the possibility of storytelling abilities to be used for [cue creepy voice] evil. This person was approached for money by someone claiming their wallet had been stolen and he just needed money for gas to get home. After giving the man money, my classmates reflected on it and felt that he had been scammed. Since then he has refused to give money when approached for fear of being scammed gain.

The cynic in me says, of course he was scammed. But that is not the point.

I started to type this long response, but decided not to send it. When I reflected on the response, I realized that it really had nothing to do with the content of the course itself and there was no reason to try to start some sort of argument.

However, I thought I would share my thoughts here:

This is something that I have thought about a great deal.

I think about it in terms of Type I and Type II errors in statistics (the likelihood you will accept the hypothesis when it is in fact false or when you will reject the hypothesis when it is fact true).

I also think about it in terms of the presumption of innocence and reasonable doubt concepts in the U.S. justice system. The idea behind those being that it is better for a guilty person to go free than an innocent person to be convicted.

I recently had a conversation with someone about a charity center where she frequently volunteers. Over the years, they have increasingly added to the rules those seeking support from the center must follow. I feel it has been come quite repressive and seems to strip their clients of all dignity.

Clients are not allowed to go into the warehouse for donations themselves. Instead, they must tell a volunteer what they want and why they want it. The volunteer then goes into the warehouse and brings back the items the client may have. So people are not allowed to select their own clothes or home items. They have to take what they are given. They are also limited. You can only have so many shirts or so many tables and only one electronic item, etc.

There is a reason for these rules. This center has seen through the years that there are people who would come and take advantage. They would take more than they needed, leaving less for others. Or take donations only to sell them. But I wonder, is it worth it to insult everyone who comes to the center, assuming they are there to take advantage, just in case there are a few people who are there for that purpose? I think I would rather give some donations to people with less than noble purpose than to fail to help those in need with dignity and grace.

On the other hand, if the center doesn't find a way to screen or limit its clients, it is possible that its donations will go to individuals not in need, leaving less for those who are in need.

It is a hard thing to balance and something that constantly requires thoughtful consideration. I, of course, have no answers. Only questions.

1 comment:

Barb Carusillo said...

I volunteer for St. Vincent de Paul, and they have similar rules that you described. They do vet people before hand by sending volunteers to see their needs, so you know the ones coming truly need the help. I tend to think the rules are good for these reasons:
* The ones that truly need often don't try to take advantage, and the accept the rules because they understand
*The volunteers don't feel constantly manipulated, so are more likely to keep helping out.
*It is so much easier to point to the list of rules in place when you feel someone is taking advantage so the volunteer is not made into the "bad guy". Sorry, dems the rules...
*And at SVDP, the folks in charge can be very flexible and tell us to use our good judgement at times, so we can let love guide.