Charity needs gesture of gratitude in return
By Zhu Yuan
Updated: 2007-08-18 07:11

What's wrong with some people who were assisted out of adversity by the benevolence of others, but offered no gratitude in return?

A girl who suffered from brain tumor recently received a donation of 150,000 yuan ($18,900), which had been raised by netizens. The money was used for surgery at a Beijing hospital. To the relief of the girl and those who raised the money, the operation was successful.

But to the fundraisers' disappointment and indignation, the girl and her family, who had been made to promise that leftover money would be given to others in need of help, is said to have broken their promise by pocketing 100,000 yuan ($13,000).

The number of university graduates, whose higher education was supported by government loans from banks but failed to return the loans by the designated deadline, are on the increase in recent years. Some banks have to publish graduates' names after being unable to locate them.

Benevolence has always been advocated as a virtue for the rich to pursue. At the same time, "return a drop of kindness with a stream" was an ancient motto encouraging people to be grateful for whatever favor one gets from others.

The girl who received financial aid from the charity is absolutely indebted to those who donated the money. The reason she gives for breaking her promise is, "I must love myself first, then I can love others."

She and her family stubbornly insisted that those who raised the money should not assist her only with her operation but with her rehabilitation. She promised again when she was interviewed by reporters that she would give the rest of money to those in need of help after she fully recovers.

Some of the graduates who fail to return bank loans share the same mentality, believing they deserve assistance. Being among the disadvantaged, they strongly hold that both the government and taxpayers have an obligation to give them a helping hand.

Yet, the principle of returning whatever you borrow from others is the bottom line that we regard as being necessary to maintain the relationship of mutual help in a social community.

In the girl's case, she may be accused of embezzling charitable money. Unfortunately, she made only a verbal promise and never signed any documents.

We don't know how the girl felt when one of the major fundraisers asked for a clear account of how the money was spent. The girl's mother said she feels deeply indebted to those who donated the money to her daughter, but insisted that her daughter badly needs the money for rehabilitation.

The fundraisers were badly hurt because they never expected that their benevolence, which they hoped would benefit many people in need of help, could end in such an embarrassing manner.

Can we expect these people to donate again? I don't believe they will. They have reason to believe that their donations will end up in the hands of those who only love themselves without any affection for others.

Banks, which answered the government's call to lend to poverty-stricken students, are caught in the same embarrassing straits. They hope that a virtuous circle can be established in lending such loans with most graduates returning their loans by the required date, and then they can lend to students who badly need them to pay their tuitions and buy textbooks.

In the girl's case, most people, I believe, would rather believe that she told the truth and she really needs more money to rehabilitate, and she will give the money left to those badly in need of help after she fully recovers.

But as a matter of fact, rehabilitation may be a life-long process for her. If that is the case, it is quite likely that she will never honor her promise.

However the story ends, many others badly in need of help may be victimized as donator enthusiasm is dampened at least for the time being.

In the same way, if more graduates refuse to return loans, it will be problematic for banks to continue offering such loans forever. So what these people have broken is not just their own promises, but the idea of credibility within a social community, which will passively affect the development of charity.

I remember a report of a charitable fund that was raised by workers of a coach company to help those who didn't have enough money on hand to pay bus fare for their long journey home. Those who were assisted were required to return the money as soon as they returned home so that this fund could rotate to help others caught in temporary financial straits.

But to the disappointment of these volunteers, only a few of the dozens who benefited from this fund returned the money. The fund was shrinking and in danger of being unable to be maintained. The hearts of the volunteers were hurt.

We need a sound mechanism to manage charitable funds. And those who refuse to pay loans without any justifiable reason or embezzle charitable money for their own benefit need to pay a price for what they have done.

But at the same time, the kindness behind any charitable action needs to be encouraged by a gesture of gratefulness.

We also need to instill into the minds of our youth such traditional virtues as benevolence, sympathy, tolerance and gratefulness.

Such elements are foundations of our social morals, which are essential for a harmonious society.

(China Daily 08/18/2007 page4)