Oprah’s Big 1 Million Dollar Mistake
10 years later, a replay of my 2-cents — or, some “bear” critical-thinking — about the the art of being a celebrity do-gooder!
NOTE: This was Originally published March 18th, 2008. The timeline, perspective of events, are going to be a tad off; yet, the underlying messages still stand true today as they did 10 y ears ago.
It was a bright, sunshiny, pre-spring Sunday.
We were just taking a short cut, through the Wal-Mart parking lot, so we could make a fast beat to Dutch Bros (our favorite local coffee drive-thru joint), and there it was:
Hardship, sorrow, suffering…
Adversity, fear, worry, and shame.
But, mainly, on the surface of all that dark despair was a man who somewhere along the line lost his faith in himself — his creativity, self-reliance, his pride — and believed that the greater victim he could portray, the better.
The cardboard sign he was holding said:
“Please understand it’s not fun standing here, out of work and homeless — please help.”
While I couldn’t come up with any intellectual on-the-spot solutions for the guy while I was waiting to make the left turn at his carefully-selected corner (probably due to the “can you believe that…” soap-box Heather and I got on about self-sabotage and “poor me” exploits), it hit me later.
Would a door-to-door vacuum cleaner Sales Manager advise his commission-only sales reps to stand at the corner of a neighborhood block, with a sign that says:
“Will vacuum your house for a sale!”
Nope, nada chance…
So, why is it that somebody who’s TRULY starving for food, or in dire need of a job, takes the PASSIVE approach to getting what he (or she) wants?
Here’s an idea: next time you see a person holding up a sign that says, “Hungry — need food” or “will work for food,” park the car, get out, walk over to him (or her) and ask:
Instead of taking this passive, down-and-out approach to getting a meager hand-out or two from people who drive by you, have you thought of any way you can offer yourself to businesses or small-business folks in this town?
If they’re not cluing into any give-first ideas, here’s a few to suggest:
>> Go to a few locally-owned gas / convenience stores and tell the owners that you could really use help in getting a hot meal. Ask the owner if he’ll give you some food items AFTER you do a few odd jobs (clean the bathrooms, wash the windows, sweep the parking lot, etc.).
>> Point him to the nearest eBay consignment shop in your town. Explain how it works. “This place down on J-street will take most any item — anything you might typically find at a yard / garage sale — put it online for you, and pay you a percentage of the auction sale.” If the person is 100% homeless, doesn’t know anybody, and doesn’t have access to friends’ unwanted items, tell him to go to local businesses and ask if there’s any “old equipment” that he can take off their hands. If the business says “yes,” tell him to take that to the eBay consignment shop and see if the manager there will accept any of it to sell on eBay.
>> If the person doesn’t seem mentally stable enough, or comprehend the above two ideas, ask him if he knows where the nearest YMCA, KOA, or homeless shelter is. Tell him that contact with “key volunteers” in the community is a lot more effective for his self-esteem and confidence than standing passively at a street corner with a sign.
I bring up this story because, someway, somehow, it’s time to do our part in holding even the most seemingly “needy” people accountable for their choices and actions.
Yep, that might seem insensitive or come off like a “hard ass” with no compassion; however, continuing to enable laziness. and reward entitlement mentalities, isn’t much of a so-called “spiritual solution” to be proud of.
Last week I had a chance to watch the second week of the T.V. show, Oprah’s Big Give, which is set up to be The Apprentice for charitable people.
Each week the contestants are given separate assignments for which they are expected to make a difference in a needy person’s life. At the end of the episode, they are judged by Chris Rock’s wife, some football guy and the Naked Chef as to who gave “the biggest”.
Here’s the 3 main problems I have with this show, and the concept:
It’s capitalism at its worst. Oprah, is there really a need to put your name in front of the T.V. show title? Why not just The Big Give?
If you really want to make a difference, publicity isn’t required. Just give. Why create a reality show where you only GIVE the contestant teams $2,500 and a vehicle, so they have the transportation to go around begging celebrities and corporate sponsors (who just want to be associated with your publicity machine) for donations?
As one blogger put it,
“Shallow as a birdbath, the program would appear to exist less as a true philanthropic exercise than yet another self-aggrandizing vehicle in Oprah’s divine quest to become synonymous with all that is virtuous and good on Earth. We might well refer to this as ‘Touched By a Talk Show Host’.”
It proliferates the idea that you become a huge difference-maker when you give to needy people only.
Right… instead of guiding the so-called “needy” out of lack-based thinking and showing them long-term solutions to the problems they put themselves into, let’s show the world that it’s actually cool to give the most hand-outs to the weakest, most unproductive, least ambitious people in society.
I cringed when in the recap to episode #1, an eliminated contestant was told: “… you could have given the car to the somebody who was more deserving.” (read: “in need”).
Oprah, here’s a better idea:
Start up a funding source for hard-charging, entrepreneurial-minded, ambitious individuals who are either a) in the midst of growing a business that sells value-driven products or b) want to start a business.
My 2018 editor’s note: I have since found many unique ways to be bullish on humans. And, how to fund and profit from such ambition, ingenuity and off-the-beaten-path opportunities that are fueled by small entrepreneur hard-won efforts. To see what I mean, just hop on my once-a-week money digest.
Here’s a thought… why would Oprah create a competitive reality-show that is built upon sending contestants home for not being able to give enough?
And, wouldn’t the one million dollar prize (the surprise prize that the lone-standing contestant will get) be better used to go towards an entrepreneurs fund such as I described above, or an important cause instead?
I am all about selective charity and giving to others, but this new T.V. show is weird to watch. I think everyone needs to be booted off the show and then replaced by people who know how to take the money and multiply it, and actually spend time researching the proper places and organizations to fund.
Some of the contestants just pass out money… come on. This leads to the next problem.
It harmlessly shows people unnaturally pushing themselves to “hand out” money, cars, homes, etc. and then getting high-fived for the hustle.
For the trained mind, and critical-thinker, it’s an amazing display of the huge differences between good, honest philanthropic efforts (Bill and Melinda Gates is a good example in this arena: very low key. They donate privately through their foundation. It’s not about them. Rather, it’s about who most deserves it) and EXTREME charity gone bad.
For my point on the latter, here’s what another blogger had to say about that:
“It’s bad enough that what the people get has no necessary connection to what they need or deserve. What’s worse is it’s completely cut off from what they want, because the “prize” is decided by people who barely know them. For all its new-age trappings, Oprah’s Big Give is a throwback to a time when the poor were expected to be grateful for whatever they were given.
Seldom has the drive to do good works been as alarmingly, offensively presumptuous. When a homeless woman says she had hoped to be trained for a job, you can’t help thinking she may have had the best idea of what was best for her.”
What we need is less people willing to be exploited as quasi-pathetic charity cases on national television, and more people willing to endorse people and programs that EDUCATE the public about the systemic problems that underlie the cause of financial hardship and/or the rise of something-for-nothing social programs.