What Can You Do When There’s Nothing You Can Do?

Performative Piety. It’s been around for a while.

It’s not a new idea. I remember when everyone wore red ribbons in support of AIDS charities. Pink ribbons for breast cancer. Yellow to support troops posted abroad. Even Poppies worn for Remembrance Day. The thing about the ribbons and the Poppies, you would make a donation to get the symbol. It wasn’t just about Philosophical support, it was a sign you had given financial support. And there was a social price for not wearing the ribbon. Look at any Hollywood awards ceremony in the eighties, almost every person on stage wore a red ribbon and the ones who didn’t had to defend that decision to reporters the next day.

But at least the Ribbons did require the donation. You had to do something, donate something, towards the cause. More and more, I think the ‘support’ we show for various causes and issues doesn’t have any real substance.

I’ll start with the most literal form of Performative Piety; The Sunday Christian. Bankers and Businessmen who go to Church every Sunday, asserting their Christian Values. Then they spend the rest of their week screwing over the public in the name of Corporate profits (except for Saturday, when they play golf). Or Politicians, who offer “Thoughts and Prayers” in the wake of a mass shooting, but will do nothing with their legislative power to prevent the next one.

The most recent iteration is ‘Clap For Carers’. All through the first Lockdown, at 8pm on Thursday, people would go to their front door or open window and, as the name suggests, clap for the carers; nurses, doctors, NHS staff, nursing home staff etc. It was nice. It don’t know what it achieved, but it was nice.

The thing about Performative Piety is it comforts the person doing the performance; it doesn’t help the cause it apparently supports.

I haven’t yet given up on the human race. There is a Human Need to help out, to fix a problem. Often, and especially right now, the problems are too big or too distant for a person to affect. But I firmly believe there is always something a person can do. And just as a single pebble can turn the course of a river, one small stone can start an avalanche, and one straw can break the camels’ back*, each person’s small effort can contribute to the greater good.

To start, you can always make donations. Money always works, where ever you want to donate. Maybe do some research first into the credibility and effectiveness of your chosen charity, but that’s what the internet is for.

If money is tight, you can donate stuff. Clothing drives, food collections for food banks, yard sales to raise money, it can all help.

If you don’t have money or stuff, you can donate time. Pick a cause you care about and volunteer. I’ve been a volunteer for 5 years, and it’s the best thing I’ve done. If you want that good feeling that you’re contributing to the greater good, volunteering will give it to you tenfold.

Even on a smaller scale, if you can help one person who needs it, that’s making a contribution. If someone is in a bad way, overworked, overwhelmed, and you cook them a meal, or offer to watch their kids for a few hours, or just listen to them while they unload their frustrations, you have lightened their load.

We all feel the need to do something. Make it something real.

And if you still want to stand and the front door and clap, you can do that too. The fresh air is probably good for you.

*I do not advocate cruelty to camels

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