Doing good: the loud and the soft style



SOME GOOD IDEAS and insights have a way of randomly coming to us. Just like the one I had last week whilst having a meeting with a few social workers and counsellors.


When asked for a suggestion to help each of them advance their professional development, I suggested that they each take one case and write a detailed analysis of what they did that they thought was helpful. While they were at it, I further suggested they might try to get it publicised so that others may get a better understanding of their work and know what help is available.


A staff member sitting next to me said gravely that it might not be a good idea. He cautioned against raising the public’s expectation. He pointed out that they were already busy and more calls for help would only mean that staff will have difficulties coping.


I found myself responding almost immediately and with a voice and a passion that I was not even aware of. I replied saying that I wanted to see queues forming outside the Family Service Centres. Even if workers have to work longer hours to meet the increased demand, that would not be a bad thing. I felt that with the increased demand, we should be banging on the doors of resource-holders and policy-makers to say we need to do more and have the means to do so.


Our response should not be to offer help and assistance in secret lest other needy individuals should get to know about it and ask for the same. It should be to almost shout, from the rooftops, that help is available.


Sadly, I know that this response is not an isolated one. The irony is that it was also made with sincerity and the desire to do his job professionally. This is when it hit me. In our effort to be professional, we can come across as being less humane.


In our effort to be rational with our charity and to serve the “really needy” as opposed to those who wish to take advantage of our compassion, we become less spontaneous in our giving. We spend more time deliberating on the worthiness of the recipient and expend more energy “gate-keeping” than allowing the needy freer access to assistance.


Now I am aware that some readers may find these words too harsh and feel that it may not apply to everyone. But how many of us, myself included, eye suspiciously the person selling tissue paper moving from table to table in the hawker centre? How many of us hope that she will change course and not come our way?


We try to justify our unwillingness to help by mentally debating whether she is really poor and needy, or perhaps that by our not giving, we are discouraging this type of subsistence and she can be spurred on to be more self-reliant.


For many, our hesitation to help has been fuelled by several ideas that have become our society’s bedrock of beliefs and values. We all accept the value of meritocracy and many of us are living proof that it works. A close cousin to this value is the value of self-reliance and being a productive and contributing member of the community. These values are all good ones but should be tempered with the realisation that not all can “fish for themselves”.


What does the Bible have to say about doing good? In Luke 19:2-9, the account of the penitent acts of the tax collector Zacchaeus illustrates how helping others flows from a realisation that we have been a recipient of grace. Though we may not have cheated or swindled others, all of us like Zacchaeus are unworthy to receive God’s grace and acceptance. Should we not also give freely as we have freely received?


Matthew 25:35-46 reminds us that every act of charity to the needy is an act done directly to God. This does not mean that God is in need of our good works but that as everyone is created in His image, we dishonour His image when we ignore the needs of others.


Finally, in Matthew 6:1-4 we are told that good works should be done in a way that does not attract attention to the doer. Doing good works should never be about self-glorification.


So let us do good works with diligence and humility, and let us never shy away from loudly proclaiming that it is for all to receive, the worthy as well as the unworthy.


By Benny Bong