Thursday, November 17, 2005

uninformed kindness

I received one of those 'Irish blessings' emails yesterday - which I was supposed to forward to as many people as I knew within the next hour so that my wish would come true!!! I immediately forwarded it to the trash file.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who can't stand such emails - and why is it they always seem to come from people who would never write me otherwise? I don't usually have to think twice about how I handle them - except to restrain myself from firing off a reply requesting to be dropped from that person's contact list.

But then I got this email - from a trusted friend.

Subject: FW: Very you know her ?????????

Let's keep this one moving. It only takes a couple of seconds to forward and God works in mysterious ways.

P. S. If you have a second I'm sure she would appreciate your prayers.

Subject: Do you recognize this girl?

This little girl is at the Phuket Hospital in Thailand.

She does not remember her own name or anything! She has lost her parents.

She must be of Western origin. She was a victim when she got caught in the tidal wave disaster in Phuket, Thailand and nobody knows who she is, so we are hoping if we distribute this email around the world someone will know her.

Please don't break the chain, your contribution could be the one that solves this little girls problem. Please forward this to all your contacts.

The email was followed by contact info of a sergeant in Perth, Australia. Not sure if this was a hoax, I sent him an email to find out if it was legit. He replied surprisingly quickly to say this was real, but that the little girl had been reunited with relatives in January. He apologized for any inconvenience.

Further research has told me that this girl's name is Sophia Minhl. Though her parents were never found after the tsunami disaster, she is being cared for by relatives in Germany.

German officials are asking people to stop forwarding the letter. Sophia and another boy child were successfully identified through email campaigns and by photos posted on the Phuket hospital web site. I imagine that while families are grateful for the world-wide compassion that helped reunite them with their children, they probably wish they could find a way to put an end to a sort of out-of-control cyber kindness.

A website - - says child find chain letters are often based on real events, but while they may have successful results in the short term, they are so compelling that they continue to circulate long after they are useful - and eventually become problems of their own.

Even the friend who forwarded this to me said, "I am not sure it this is real, but it looks like it is. Better safe than sorry, so pass it on." Everyone means well. But these letters can turn in to monsters - see the story about the boy with cancer who asked for greeting cards

I don't want to be critical - but this seems just another example of uninformed kindness - like aid money that is thrown away on unfeasible or unsustainable projects because those responsible did not take the time to do the leg work before signing the cheque. Or the extreme example - which may be far too generous to even call kindness - when the American forces dropped 37,000 ration packs with peanut butter and strawberry jam on Afghanistan. As Indian novelist, Arundhati Roy wrote in an 2001 article for the Guardian: "Aid workers have condemned it as a cynical, dangerous, public-relations exercise. They say that air-dropping food packets is worse than futile. First, because the food will never get to those who really need it. More dangerously, those who run out to retrieve the packets risk being blown up by landmines. A tragic alms race.

Like many others, I think it is important to give - time, money, resources, etc - but IMHO our generosity and kindness have to be informed. Otherwise our efforts are at best wasteful and at worst insulting and dangerous.

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