The Church has published a new daily giving calendar for the month of December to encourage members to do good works every day, thereby sharing the light of Christ. Some of these efforts include posting to social media to share what is being done.

Matthew 6:5-6: 5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Is using social and other forms of media to share charitable works inherently wrong? Does it undermine the good being done? Or is that complaint making good the enemy of great?

From some of the complaints about the campaign, here are a few things I read that people saw about this effort that they didn’t love:

  • Using charitable acts to virtue signal to each other (fellow church members) rather than done from the heart.
  • Deliberately lauding the “Christlike” qualities of individuals they know who are abusive or controlling (which in and of itself may be a way to appease and manipulate an abuser I suppose).
  • Using charitable acts to “market” the Church (which costs people who join money in the form of tithing).
  • Using thankfulness to others to suck up to local leaders or others from whom one might wish to gain favor.
  • Using social media to “humble brag” to make yourself look good. (I believe the Matthew caution could literally be “don’t humble brag.”)
  • Doing good deeds as a way of demonstrating loyalty and obedience to the Church rather than from the heart.
  • Only doing charity in the one month a year when everybody does it so we may not be doing what is most necessary.

On the other hand, these are the byproducts of publishing good works. That’s the nature of the beast.  The billboards that advertise role models for their good works as a public service announcement are designed to inspire others to do good works as well by admiring the actions of those people. Since we don’t know the individual publishing the billboards, it makes us wonder who’s behind it, and what they want, but it feels like a general public good. That changes a bit when it’s done by individuals at the direction of another organization.

I was recently reading about how in an individualistic society like ours, social media often creates anxiety by measuring our individual contribution in likes. In more communitarian cultures (e.g. Asia), there is a greater impact to self esteem because taking praise or measuring one’s own perception or reputation are not valued, but praising others is. Having lived in Asia, this was something I found very difficult to comprehend, and particularly to manage in business, but returning from Asia, I see the value of it, and the poison that our individualism sometimes is. In the workplace in Asia, if someone screwed up, it was nearly impossible to find out who did it and hold them accountable. Instead you might have several people offering to take blame when you knew it wasn’t them. Likewise, when someone did something outstanding, they did not like to take credit. They found it embarrassing and there was a lot of social pressure not to stand out from the crowd. The team should take credit or blame.

These cultural traits were completely different from all the American and Australian offices I managed. It’s not that those people were braggarts in most cases, but they saw each worker as an individual primarily, not as a team member. Assignments would change, and reviews would pit people’s performance against each other. These different cultural views changed how people perceived outcomes, mistakes and breakthroughs.

The individualism culture in which we live alters how we perceive it when someone praises another, and when someone talks about their own acts of charity.

Even though that may be the case with the #lighttheworld campaign (even that it is a “campaign” points to what feels a little off about it), but it’s likely still a net positive if it encourages people to do more good, and to become more charitable than they might do without it. But like any human action, it is subject to being tainted by those gray human (and organizational) motives: desire for praise, a wish to gain social capital, wanting to be seen as an insider, and the desire for the Church to grow.

What do you think?

  • Too contrived and self-congratulatory?
  • Brings the right focus to the season?
  • Totally depends on the person and their motives?