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Friday, May 28, 2010

Generosity versus Greed

How much effort and cash is expended by people to help themselves compared with helping others? This is a frightening question which many will shy away from asking. Many more will not want to hear the answer. The truth can be troubling, to say the least. Truth often is. Despite its outrageous propaganda Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, was well named. Facts can be sledgehammers. Facts can make us squirm and sweat, even make us sick. Contestable? Debatable? Controversial? Yes to all three, but people react and respond to the truth differently, and regardless of whether you agree or not, truth is truth. Not liking something or not believing in it does not alter the reality of it. Some things are true and that's all there is to it.

Former British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli is believed to have once said there are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics. At the risk of being accused of using statistical acrobatics to support my case, I offer the following shocking facts.

The 2005 Boxing Day tsunami was arguably the worst natural disaster the modern world has ever seen. Australians responded to the cry for help from the people affected and by the organisations that moved to alleviate their suffering and begin the rebuilding process. Roughly $100 million dollars was raised by Australians alone.It was a fantastic effort and a wonderful display of generosity. In that same year however, gambling losses by Australians totalled $17.5 billion dollars. Read that sentence again. It's not a misprint. Here's more; total giving by Australians to non profit organisations in 2004, personal and corporate, was $11 billion dollars. Gambling losses in the following year were $17.5 billion.

Statistics from Giving Australia in 2005 showed that Australians donated 0.7% of GDP on a per capita basis. That puts us behind the Americans, the British and our friends across the Ditch. A more recent survey by Commsec showed that Australians spend more on gambling than they do on some bills. $2292 on gambling versus $1830 on gas and electricity bills, for example. Illuminating isn't it?

Why? That's the question. Why are Australians addicted to gambling? Hope. Most of us struggle a little financially, and whether our wallets are fat or emaciated, we would like a little more. The desperate need we feel for more, the belief we have that more money will solve our worries, that having more will make us complete, make us more content, that winning a fortune will rescue us from the prison of our boring jobs with their insufficient incomes, all translates into an addiction. Our hope is in gambling: the small chance that we will get lucky. The statistics say we spend more on this addiction (and I haven't even mentioned alcohol and cigarettes) than we do on helping others.

That's pretty sad, isn't it?

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