A Heart To Help

A Heart To Help


Awhile back I watched the entire 4 1/2 hour broadcast on CSPAN of the Planned Parenthood President, Cecile Richards, testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (here). It was my first experience watching CSPAN, and it was surprisingly very entertaining.  The dramatic accusations and passive aggressive banter was no doubt comparable to a Real Housewives episode.  Although this hearing conjured up many thoughts and opinions, I'll stay away from most of those for now and instead focus on one particular aspect of the hearing.  Cecile Richards was sufficiently grilled by the republicans, especially Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  At one point, he brought up Ms. Richards salary.  A salary that he clearly felt was far too large.

The next morning I overheard someone saying how they heard on the morning news that Cecile Richards makes over $500k, and "Can you believe that?! Think how much more help she could be providing to others if she wasn't so greedy and would just take a lower salary."

The more I thought about this, the more frustrated I became.  Why is it that if you have a heart for helping others, our society feels that you yourself must live on very little? Dan Polotta's TEDTalk speaks so perfectly to this point:

Why have our breast cancer charities not come close to finding a cure for breast cancer, or our homeless charities not come close to ending homelessness in any major city? Why has poverty remained stuck at 12 percent of the U.S. population for 40 years?

And the answer is, these social problems are massive in scale, our organizations are tiny up against them, and we have a belief system that keeps them tiny. We have two rulebooks. We have one for the nonprofit sector, and one for the rest of the economic world. It’s an apartheid, and it discriminates against the nonprofit sector in five different areas, the first being compensation.

So in the for-profit sector, the more value you produce, the more money you can make. But we don’t like nonprofits to use money to incentivize people to produce more in social service. We have a visceral reaction to the idea that anyone would make very much money helping other people. Interestingly, we don’t have a visceral reaction to the notion that people would make a lot of money not helping other people. You know, you want to make 50 million dollars selling violent video games to kids, go for it. We’ll put you on the cover of Wired magazine. But you want to make half a million dollars trying to cure kids of malaria, and you’re considered a parasite yourself.
— Dan Pallotta, The way we think about charity is dead wrong

When looking through the CNN article for lowest paid college majors, I read:

While students may want to follow their hearts, do what they’re passionate about, and make a difference in the world, their bank accounts may suffer. The report, which looked at annual wages for 137 college majors, found that over the course of a career, the salary difference between the lowest- and highest-paying majors amounted to $3.4 million dollars.
— CNN Money "10 Lowest-Paying College Majors"


Can you please take note of how many times various forms of "education" are listed above?  If you would like a really special treat, take a second and read through some of the comments.  Unfortunately, it proves my point that much further.  "Dontbefooled" would like you to know that ACTUALLY teachers get like, a lot of vacation time, and the commenter two spots below would like you the know that educators put in much shorter work weeks... so you know, it all evens out.

I won't go too far down this rabbit hole, but just a few comments to the above points that I hear ALL THE TIME:

  • The educators I know arrive early and stay late.  Sometimes for planning purposes, but often for meetings (on specific kids who are struggling) or with worried parents.  Their planning periods are usually consumed with meetings as well.  So then they go home, spend time with their own families, and then finally find the time to grade papers and make lesson plans.  I work in education, and can easily put in a 60 hours on a slow week.
  • I'm sick of hearing how awesome a teacher's schedule is.  You know what the vast majority of educators that I know do during the summer?  They work. If their school has funding for summer school, then they work there or they get part-time jobs to make ends meet because they are one of the LOWEST PAID college majors, and can't afford to support their own families if they don't.

Two separate rule books

To the people that dedicate their lives to helping others, we as a nation repeatedly say, "Dedicating your professional life to this cause isn't enough, You must also sacrifice your own livelihood, and your ability to potentially provide for yourself and your own family.  If you are a "giver" then we expect that you give everything and take nothing."

I was so impressed by Cecile Richards' unwavering professionalism, and cannot imagine the overwhelming responsibility that comes with assisting in running such a large organization. Not to mention that in addition to their responsibilities they also must deal with death threats and violent acts.  Why shouldn't she make over 500K?  Hell, why shouldn't she make more?  How is it that difficult to understand that in order to make money for causes you have to spend money.  

Do we as a nation suggest that athletes, actors, or CEOs of for-profit organizations should make less than what they do for what they do? 

Take a moment to thumb through our highest paid athletes.  Can you guess which athlete made $300 million last year?  Or thumb through the Highest paid CEO's and see who made (according to Forbes) $131.2 million total annual compensation? 

My argument is not that you shouldn't be able to earn a ridiculously large amount of money, obviously this is 'merica, and that's the American Dream. My point is only that the same news media and the same water cooler commenters will announce the salaries of the highest-paid athletes with a smile and a shake of the head stating, "Wow! Wouldn't that be nice!"  Which is not exactly the same accusing tone that might suggest their salaries could and should be better used.  It's quite the opposite.  We instead are in awe of athletes/singers/actors who stop by a children's hospital.  We say, "Oh wow! look at this star visiting sick kids in hospitals!  They are such an amazing person!"  

But if you spend your life WORKING to support a great cause then your salary better be what "we" think it should be, and your charitable organization better allocate funds with 99.9% of our donations going "towards the cause."    

And we think of this as our system of ethics, but what we don’t realize is that this system has a powerful side effect, which is: It gives a really stark, mutually exclusive choice between doing very well for yourself and your family OR doing good for the world,
— Dan Pallotta, The Way We Think About Charity Is Dead Wrong


I understand that issues such as these are larger and far more complex than the words I've written here today.  Nonetheless, my idealistic self still hopes for a day when helping professions aren't synonymous with self-sacrifice.  


I'm stepping down from my soap box now. 

Live Beautifully



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I Am Malala

I Am Malala