tiktokker mr. harrison pawluk is at the center of a controversy. are his “random acts of kindness” really “acts of exploitation?” are they done for goodwill or merely for clicks and profits? dailymail.com
to address this moral issue, we turn to an authority who lived over 800 years ago and offered scholarship on the concepts of charity. the visionary, the spanish philosopher maimonides also known as rabbi moses ben maimon. can his insights offer direction with respect to the dilemma?
maimondes crafted his eight levels of charity or tzedakah. he assigned different values to charitable interactions. he concerned himself with both the giver and the receiver within the interaction.
the levels start with the least form was when the donations are given grudgingly. the next level was one and individual gives less than they should but does so cheerfully. the next level is when one gives directly to the poor upon being asked. the next level is when one gives directly to the poor without being asked. the next level is when the recipient is aware of the donor’ identity, but the donor still doesn’t know the specific identify of the recipient. the next level is when the donor is aware to whom the charity is being given but the recipient is unaware of the source. the next level is giving in a way in which both the giver and the recipient are unknown to each other, i.e. a communal fund. finally, the highest form of charity is to help someone sustain themselves before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, extending a loan, helping them find employment or assisting them in setting themselves upon in a business so that they will not need to become dependent upon others. jewishvirtuallibrary.org
with the levels and concept behind them in mind, we look at two the the tiktokker’s reported interactions of controversial. in one, he gave flowers to an elderly woman. she was sitting having coffee in a shopping mall. the gift was initially in the form of a ruse. he asked her to hold the flowers for him and he walked off telling her to have a nice day. the video got almost 60 million views. she felt dehumanized and felt that she was click bait. the woman indicated “these artificial things are not random acts of kindness really…it’s really not about me anymore, i just think this whole idea that this is a random act of kindness is to be challenged.’ dailymail.com
is giving flowers an act of charity? is it even an act of kindness given the fact that it was done for the purposes of creating social media content? elderly people are often cautious. they are subject to exploitation. they are concerned about being victims or violence or being exploited by fraud. in the instance, this woman felt exploited. if the intended act was to give this woman happiness, it was a complete disaster. his act lacked sensitivity. recently, i was at a restaurant and an elderly person dropped some garbage on the floor. i could see that they were concerned and upset over it. for them, it would have been difficult for them to get out of their seat to pick it up. i saw this walking by and picked the item up for them and put it in the trash. they thanked me profusely and were happy that their problem was solved. elderly people have needs. if one would take the time to understand them, one could make an impact.
in another video, he was giving a bag of items to some homeless individuals. he was accused of exploiting the homeless with respect to that one. while this is an act of giving, it is done with disregard of the dignity of the individual. the individuals may have been embarrassed by the experience from the publicity of the interaction being on social media aspect. again, this interaction may as well be barely a form of charity. on the westside of los angeles, it is not uncommon individuals with leftovers from restaurants offering them to homeless individuals. again, the interact itself is a concern. the must be an offer done in a dignified way such as “would you be interested?” while these interactions are in public, those offering up their left over do not announce it to the world. it is often done in a very low key fashion to not draw attention.
it is reported that mr. pawluk is making between $10,000 to $15,000 a month through brand partnerships and sponsored posts. while he has offered to apologize, his statement concerning the lady with the flowers that ‘if she requests him to take down the video he will do that. he would not want something designed to spread love and compassion to cause anyone concern.’ this statement is disturbing. she has to make an effort to reach out to him and give him dignity to restore her dignity? his remark evidences that he is oblivious as to what exactly is an act of love and compassion. his acts are arguably that of greed, exploitation and humiliation. if mr. pawluk truly wished to be charitable, perhaps he should his income with the individuals who are the subjects of his content? should he obtain these individual’s consent prior to these postings? when looking at his acts through the vision of maimonides, mr. pawluk’s critics are perhaps, at this point, spot on. with this said, maimonides’ wisdom still rings true today.
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