Saturday, February 4, 2012

Bully for You


This week the blogosphere lit up with condemnation of Susan G. Komen for the Cure's decision to withdraw funding from Planned Parenthood.  A day later, Komen reversed its decision.  (If you somehow missed it, here's a bit of catch-up.)

I am not here to discuss pro-life vs. pro-choice.  And I'm really not here to discuss whether Komen should or should not give funds to Planned Parenthood.

Rather, I am taking to this space (small though its scope may be), on an otherwise quiet Saturday, because there are several aspects of how this all "went down" that trouble me deeply. 

First, how many of the presumably thousands that chimed in (with such furor as to make Komen feel forced to make a u-turn) read the fine print?  One of the main criticisms slung at Komen was that it was abandoning at risk women in need of mammograms.  However, as a blogger I greatly admire explained quite succinctly:  
If your organization provides low-cost mammograms to women who need them, [Komen] will still be available for grants. Planned Parenthood offers manual breast exams in their clinics. It does not offer mammograms onsite. Instead, some Planned Parenthood locations provide grants to women to receive low-cost mammograms at other organizations. Why does Komen need a middle man? Why should Planned Parenthood receive money to give grants for mammograms to other organizations? Komen is wise to give the money directly to the clinics that actually give the breast cancer screenings rather than funneling it through Planned Parenthood (or any other establishment for that matter).

So if Komen's funds to Planned Parenthood were only going to be used for third-party mammogram grants in the first place, the cessation of direct funding to Planned Parenthood should have no negative impact on women in need of low-cost mammograms. 

If we, those who have chosen to take part in social media, are going to comment on the actions of others, don't we have a duty to know all the facts?

Second, if we take out the particular issues involved in this instance, who isn't for more direct stewardship of charitable funds?

One of the proffered reasons in favor of Komen's initial decision to withdraw funding from Planned Parenthood was that some of Komen's pro-life donors were uncomfortable with the fact that their dollars went to support an organization (however indirectly) that performs abortions.  I don't know about you, but I can imagine the conversation between a Komen fundraiser and potential donor:
Komen operator: "We noticed that you made a donation in your mother's memory last year.  Can we count on you for another $100 donation this year?"
Donor: "Well, I'm pro-life, and I want to honor my mother's memory and help find a cure for everyone else affected by breast cancer, but can you guarantee that my money isn't going to support Planned Parenthood?"
Somehow, this type of reluctance from some donors seems to have been spun into a mean-ol'-pro-lifers argument, but if we put the shoe on the other foot, how does it fit?
Health-Condition-Related Charity operator: "We noticed that you made a donation in your father's memory last year.  Can we count on you again this year?"
Donor: "Well, I am an atheist, and want to honor my father's memory and help put an end to this kind of disease, but I've heard that you grant money to support a faith-based addiction support program.  I don't want my money going to churches, can you guarantee that won't happen?"
Should we, as charitable donors, be forced to contribute (even indirectly) to organizations with whom we respectfully disagree in order to support a cause for which we care greatly?

Finally, and this is what has been gnawing at me the most, to what extent do we have the right to tell other private individuals (and private organizations) what to do with their money?

Don't misunderstand me - I am all for free speech.  But, as Thomas Jefferson said, "your freedom ends where my nose begins."

If you're a Komen donor and pro-Planned Parenthood, then, sure, my feeling is that you had standing to express an opinion about Komen's grant practices.  A respectful, reasoned opinion.

There is a line - however gray it may be - between speaking one's mind and bullying.  And nasty, personal attacks (many, I suspect, by people who have no personal stake in Komen's grant practices) and calls to others to do the same cross that gray line.

It is not acceptable for me to walk next door, scream and shake my fist, and bully my neighbor into donating to Save the [Fill in the Wild Animal] Foundation.  I can tell her why I'm passionate about that animal, and I can try to persuade her.

But in the end she should feel like she has a choice whether or not to support that cause.  Regardless of how you feel about Komen, I'll bet they don't feel like they had a choice.  They were blackmailed.  Ransomed. 

And that is bullying.

If this is how a private organization is treated by adults, and the collective example that grown-ups are making for their children, is it any wonder that bullying is becoming more and more of a problem in our schools?

Words are powerful, folks.  If the last twelve months (think Arab Summer and Occupy Wall Street) have taught us anything, it is that.

Let's use them wisely.  Let's think before we speak.  Let's get our facts straight first.  Let's remember to be respectful.

And, ultimately, just like we all want to make our own decisions, let's let others do the same.

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