~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Some people believe that helping others is better than helping others to help themselves. Thoreau was not one of them. What Thoreau told us to do in the eighth and final section of Chapter 1, “The Fallacy of Philanthropy,” was to teach others to know how to spend their scarce resources wisely. Thoreau tells us that he has tried to give to the poor and help the needy, but he noticed a trend. The people that were also giving were not doing these acts of kindness for the person they were helping, but for themselves. Thoreau described his feelings this way: "There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted.”
After talking about his past in the last two sections, Thoreau is now back in the present, and once again he is criticizing the rich. Thoreau believed that people of his common era didn’t donate for the good of it all, but for their own benefit. In her analysis of Chapter one for “Classic Note,” author Carrie-Anne Dedeo said, “As for the poor, [Thoreau] believes their problem is not necessarily a lack of possessions since he has shown he can live without them but a lack of ‘taste,’ in deciding how to spend the money they have.” (http://www.gradesaver.com/walden/study-guide/section1/)
Thoreau thought that this was a sad thing which is reflected in this quote:
A man is not a good man to me because he will feed me if I should be starving,
or warm me if I should be freezing, or pull me out of a ditch if I should ever fall
into one. I can find you a Newfoundland dog that will do as much. Philanthropy
is not love for one's fellow-man in the broadest sense.
He believes that this is hopeless and it is why he “indulged very little in philanthropic enterprises.” He didn’t want to give to the poor because he believed that the poor are able to survive just fine on their own, if someone were to teach them.
This is a valid point that is still true today. People don’t give to help, they give to gain. This is why after donating a large sum of money, some people make a public presentation of their donation, complete with an oversized fake check, so that people know exactly who donated the money. This puts a positive image on the organization or person, and some people donate for that image – to feel good about their act of philanthropy, not to be philanthropic.
Overall, “The Fallacy of Philanthropy” was a great section and a great way to end Chapter 1. He made some good points, he made me think, and left me wanting more of his writing.