DEAR MISS MANNERS: I received an email message from a business colleague whose parents lost all of their belongings in a flood. She sent to all of her business acquaintances a list of suggested items that we should consider buying for her parents to help them recover.
I’m not certain how to respond! While I have all the sympathy on the earth for her parents, I’ve never seen anyone come right out and ask colleagues to buy things like this for people we’ve never met. The list contains ordinary household items, but she also has listed pretty expensive stuff like computer printers, power tools, and high-end toaster ovens.
How can I respond to her without being rude?
GENTLE READER: If you want to decline, you needn’t respond, any more than you would to any other solicitation to send money. A letter of sympathy would be gracious, but Miss Manners worries that such might not be well-received without the requested donation.
By no means should this be taken as an excuse to discourage charity. There are an extraordinary number of flood victims, and if you can help them or others in need, you certainly should. Miss Manners is only questioning the best way to do this.
Naturally, you will want to assist people you care about. And there are reputable organizations to which you can direct your more general compassion for others, rather than responding randomly to whoever asks.
If this sounds unduly harsh, it is because there is an epidemic of self-fundraising, and not all on behalf of the truly desperate. Begging for help, which ought to be a last resort, has become so easy online that those who are not victims of disaster are asking for assistance with the ordinary expenses of life, and even for luxuries.
Evidently this is not the case with your colleague’s parents. But even the most generous people need some way of evaluating and prioritizing the torrent of pleas pouring through the internet. This is best done when you know the individual circumstances, or trust a filtering organization. Social embarrassment -- the awkwardness of not complying with requests -- should not figure into it.