Monday, November 12, 2012

13.1

We have already discussed at great length, here at WWPD, the overlap between Hurricane Sandy and YPIS. More specifically, the almost instinctive response of right-thinking people inconvenienced (in some cases arguably more than inconvenienced) by the storm, to express gratitude. Otherwise, particularly if your woe involves an Apple product not functioning, you come across as clueless. If you're alive, if your loved ones are alive, and if there's a roof over your head, it could be worse. Whether this is supposed to make you feel better when commuting using trains whose "schedule" changes day-to-day, that stop existing entirely, that connect to shuttle-buses still on a schedule assuming the pre-Sandy train schedule, is another story. (Maybe slightly? I do feel lucky to be on the Northeast Corridor line. If you commute in from somewhere in NJ not on the way to Trenton, you've been pretty much screwed.)

The latest mini-controversy related to complaining and the storm relates to the recent cancellation of the Princeton Half-Marathon. Now, if anything would seem to merit "first-world problems," it would be something like "the Princeton Half-Marathon was cancelled." And the most I've ever run consecutively in my life was maybe nine miles, and that was in college, so this did not, needless to say, impact me personally. When I first saw that this event had been cancelled, I believe it was before the NYC Marathon had been, and I thought, well done, Princeton Half-Marathon, in acknowledging that our region's a big ol' mess.

But then there's this little detail: “'As the 2012 event was cancelled due to conditions beyond our control, registration fees will not be refunded and will be treated as tax-deductible contributions to support HiTOPS’ vital programs and services for youth and their families.'” This from what Planet Princeton reports was the email sent to the would-be runners.

What the email apparently didn't say, but what does seem relevant, is that runners evidently signed some small-print about how if the event was cancelled for a reason such as this, they wouldn't get their money back. Which solves (?) the legal question, but perhaps not the ethical one. Those who sign up to run a race would presumably not do so if they altogether opposed the cause it benefitted, but it's a fair guess that most were interested in running 13.1 miles competitively, not in this particular charity. If they were simply choosing where to donate, it seems unlikely all or most would have gone with this. From what I can tell from the Planet Princeton Facebook coverage, runners don't especially want their money back, more to have that option. One, however, won't have it:

Amazing to me that any of you would complain about donating the money to this horrible catastrophe. Who cares whether it was done the right way or wrong way, just care that it is going to the right place. Complain about something else!!
OK, so this individual is a better person than everyone else, and has creatively opted to demonstrate this by being sanctimonious on the Internet. First off, I see nothing about the "donation" going to anything whatsoever to do with the hurricane. It appears to be something else entirely. Next, even if it did, one doesn't have to be all that cynical about charities to understand that not everyone agrees with how each allots funds. There's no such thing as giving "to this horrible catastrophe" end of story. (Thus the folks warning others not, under any circumstances, to give to the Red Cross.) Moreover, even if such a thing did exist, something's a bit off about compelling people to donate to charity. Even if, again, we know that these people a) had $X to spare, and b) didn't actively disapprove of the organization.

Why am I highlighting this one random comment on something that doesn't even have anything to do with me? Because I think it offers a very good sense of the mood of the moment - the way that YPIS-infused be-grateful is being used to stifle complaints that, if small, are still legitimate.

6 comments:

Moebius Stripper said...

Oh, this brings me back.

I belong to a car co-op, and a few years ago, the directors sent out an email advertising a mixer for members that would also be a silent auction. Members were welcome to contribute items, and I, an amateur potter, brought some mugs and a casserole dish to sell.

They sold, and during intermission, the MC thanked us all for our donations, and said that we would all be proud to know that the funds would go to help low-income residents afford deposits for the car co-op. I felt like a dupe; foolishly, I had thought that the auction was a way for the co-op act in accordance with their ethos as community-mindedness, with us members as the community. But I figured I'd just misread the email, and that somewhere at the bottom were the details about where the proceeds for the sale were going.

Alas, there was no indication whatsoever in the email that this was a charity auction, but as you say, there's no way to graciously complain about such things. Nor did I want to ask any of the other sellers if they had known about this in advance. I donate plenty to charity, but 1) I like to choose the causes; and 2) it's a lot easier for all parties if I make my donations by writing cheques, instead of painstakingly wrapping and then hauling several pounds of fragile ceramics across town on a bicycle for resale.

PG said...

Unlike the sale of pottery, which generally seems to redound to the monetary benefit of the potters, these marathon/half-marathon/vigorous walk around the block events are mostly for charity. There may be a few that aren't and that people come from Kenya to win, but the Princeton Half doesn't seem to be of that type, and that it's for charity seems to be reasonably clear.

I've done some of these events though I am not a runner (I beat my mother in the half-marathon we did for her 55th birthday by only 10 minutes), and they were always really clearly for charity. I suppose if you're among the dozen people who thought they would win prizes, you might feel somewhat defrauded by not having the chance to compete and win. But for the chubby majority, that seems kind of silly.

Phoebe said...

Moebius,

"there's no way to graciously complain about such things."

Indeed.

"I like to choose the causes"

Which is what's missed when "charity" is treated as a monolith. Anything anyone says is a good cause must be one.

PG,

I can always count on you for research or anecdata explaining why whatever I’ve posted was wrong! (And I'm being sincere! I like to have to prove my point, or be proven wrong, etc.)

With this… like I said, I sure hadn’t entered, so I don’t know for certain who runs these for which reasons. But my impression, having observed such things from a distance, and having run one race, once, long ago, is that there are on the one hand charity run/walks, where the point is very much to support a certain cause, and on the other road races (anything with “marathon” or “-athalon” in the name, but also some shorter races) where there’s always the same set of committed runners/people who’ve more recently decided to get in shape participating. Not all people who’d expect to win, but all people who enjoy working out with competition as motivation. These people run regardless of the cause, assuming - I'm assuming - they don't actively disagree with it.

I mean, if you’d signed up for the AIDS Walk or a pink-ribbon-affiliated equivalent but it got cancelled for some reason, it would indeed be “silly” if not outright bizarre to complain that the money you’d raised was going to fight that disease. But if your thing is running, and without the competition you don't enjoy it, not running but just donating won't make you happy. I think we can consider the controversy this has raised as evidence that this may have been more of a running event than a charity one. But yeah, fair enough, I haven't surveyed all participants.

PG said...

Which is what's missed when "charity" is treated as a monolith. Anything anyone says is a good cause must be one.

No, there's certainly controversy about the merits of various charities. For example, the half-marathon I did with Mom was for Susan G. Komen. On the one hand, there were anti-abortion protesters along the route helpfully handing out pamphlets about Komen's funding baby-killers at Planned Parenthood. On the other hand, shortly after that half-marathon, Komen dissociated itself from PP and there was a firestorm of controversy among liberals (on the "taking over my FB feed" scale). The Boy Scouts of America are a 501(c)(3) charity but liberals are trying to prevent their getting donations because the BSA is homophobic.

But my impression, having observed such things from a distance, and having run one race, once, long ago, is that there are on the one hand charity run/walks, where the point is very much to support a certain cause, and on the other road races (anything with “marathon” or “-athalon” in the name, but also some shorter races) where there’s always the same set of committed runners/people who’ve more recently decided to get in shape participating. Not all people who’d expect to win, but all people who enjoy working out with competition as motivation. These people run regardless of the cause, assuming - I'm assuming - they don't actively disagree with it.

I would say that any athletic event for which you sign up and pay a participation fee, and the charity asks you to do additional fundraising for it, is essentially a charitable fundraiser with a little exercise thrown in. I don't know how the charity could make it any clearer that they're all about the benjamins. And this includes many marathons and "-athalons" and people who do them repeatedly, because I repeatedly get emails from those folks asking me to donate.

Phoebe said...

PG,

Where are you seeing that this particular race was primarily a charity event? I mean of course it is for the charity, but if there's this set of people running all races except those that benefit a cause they object to, it would seem to be more race than charity run. I readily acknowledge that those exist, but if this were such an event, there'd probably be no 'thing' about people not getting their money back.

PG said...

I readily acknowledge that those exist, but if this were such an event, there'd probably be no 'thing' about people not getting their money back.

That the event was clearly positioned by its sponsors to be for a charitable purpose doesn't determine the reaction of others to having the event cancelled and their entry fee converted into a tax-deductible donation. I've been asked to attend an event on Saturday that's a "collaborative gala" in which several charities are pitching together to assume the risks and share the rewards. When I went to buy a ticket, there was an area in which I could make an additional donation (which would actually be tax-deductible). It's very clear that this event is for a charitable purpose, though like with anything of this type, they're hoping to attract people to buy tickets who might not otherwise spontaneously make a donation. If they canceled the gala due to a storm and didn't refund the money, instead converting it to a tax-deductible donation, I'd be disappointed (there goes my Saturday night plans to dress up, dance, gamble at the faux-casino, etc.), but I don't think I could with any logic claim that I'd somehow been defrauded, because it was always clear that this was for charity. Also, they'd presumably already put a lot of money into stuff that they won't get refunds on, like theme decorations, food, etc. If we all demanded refunds, we'd actually force the charities into a loss. Similarly, your link says registered runners can still pick up "t-shirts, registration packets and other Princeton Half Marathon goodies." If you're not OK with this possibility, why pay for entry in the first place?

It would not be like having my ticket to see "Streetcar Named Desire" voided and the money paid for it handed on to some actors' charity, because when I bought the ticket no charity was mentioned at all and it is customary that cancellations of theatrical events (or concerts, etc.) result in either being able to use the ticket on another date or refunding the money paid. Unless it is customary that charitable fundraisers in the form of athletic activity give refunds when they cancel, there's no good basis for complaint.

It's reasonable to say "I'm disappointed, I'd been looking forward to this, I wish they'd reschedule," which are all things I'd say about this Saturday night gala. But to say that having this money go to the charity, that was always supposed to be the ultimate beneficiary of any monies that weren't spent in putting on he event, is a surprise, indicates that one has not been paying any attention. Inattentive people have a right to their feelings, but I'm not inclined to sympathize with them as much.