Antony Davies, James Harrigan: Open your eyes and see the good |
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Hundreds of bouquets and trinkets line the sidewalk outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill where a gunman killed 11 people Oct. 27, 2018.

Something fascinating happened in the wake of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh last month. Following one person’s example of hate, thousands of people demonstrated how much we can and do care about each other.

Humans seem to have a built-in preference for noting and reporting the shocking and salacious. Perhaps that evolved as a defense mechanism. People who are attuned to bad news might be better prepared to identify and avoid dangers. What we know is that the media, like any business, delivers what customers want. And if customers want the shocking and salacious, that’s what the media will deliver.

One needs to do a little digging to see the good, but it turns out that there are so many examples that one needn’t dig long. Within days of the shooting, the Muslim community raised over a quarter of a million dollars for victims and their families. An Iranian-American launched a GoFundMe campaign that, to date, has raised over $1 million. Contrary to examples from other parts of the globe, Muslims do come to the aid of Jews and vice versa. It gets little press, but it happens often.

Yes, some humans are evil. But many more are angels. And the angels know no ethnic, religious or national bounds. Good people are at their finest in the wake of tragedy. But they are always there in the background, quietly helping even when unnoticed. A dive into the data reveals their handiwork.

Last year on Giving Tuesday, the day after Cyber Monday, Americans donated a quarter of a billion dollars to charities. In one day. While the Christmas season elicits a sense of giving, Americans donate a lot year-round.

In 2017, Americans gave over $400 billion to U.S. charities. And this was not large corporations giving for the sake of tax breaks. Corporate philanthropy only comprises around 5 percent of all charitable giving in the U.S. Over 90 percent of high-net-worth households give to charity, the average rich household giving 10 times what the average U.S. household gives. More than 60 million Americans volunteer around $200 billion worth of their time. In money and time, Americans voluntarily give away well over a half-trillion dollars annually, more than the federal government spends on all welfare programs combined.

Tax deductibility helps, but Americans only deduct about half of the money they donate. And even tax deductibility only partially reduces the pain of giving. It does not give a selfish person any incentive to be generous.

Of course, not all charitable giving goes to the poor. Five percent goes to arts, culture and humanities charities. Three percent goes to environment and animal charities, 10 percent goes to foundations, and 8 percent goes to public benefit causes. That leaves around 75 percent to go either directly to the needy through education, human services and international charities, or indirectly through religious groups.

When the shooter, Robert Gregory Bowers, was transported to Allegheny General Hospital, he was treated by Jewish doctors and nurses. When Pittsburgh’s Jewish community was hurting, Muslims offered their help. These are the lessons we could learn if we paid less attention to the news and more to our own eyes. And in the wake of a terrible turn of events, they are good lessons to learn.

Antony Davies is an associate professor of economics at Duquesne University. James Harrigan teaches in the department of Political Economy and Moral Science at the University of Arizona. They host the weekly podcast Words & Numbers .

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