Some schools are encouraging their students to solicit sponsorship for trips abroad. I was told about one student (attending a private school) who was looking for sponsorship for a trip to Peru to climb some exotic hill. I thought to myself, ‘but that sounds like a fun adventure holiday’.

The idea then occurred to me to ask for sponsorship for my own adventure holiday – visiting a rain forest perhaps. What would be the difference between me and the student?

A lot of the trouble is with the word, ’sponsor’. Originally, this meant a form of advertising for an organisation that funded a programme on television, or some kind of event. It was clearly a trade off; they give you money, you advertise their product. Not much different from regular advertising.

So when a student asks to be sponsored on their trip to Peru or wherever, do you ask how prominent your advertising will be be on their shirt? (what, you mean, there is no advertising!?).

Technically then, as individuals, no sponsorship is actually taking place, you are simply giving money and the student is simply begging. That’s the reality of the situation; a student of wealthy parents is asking you for money so that they can go on holiday and their parents don’t have to pay the bill (hmm, sounds a bit like the recent banking crisis or the MP’s expenses scandal).

So what about those people who abuse their bodies to collect for charity and to achieve something arbitrary on the way – say, running a marathon? Is that any better?

Well, generally, these people like running anyway, that’s why they do it in the first place so it is still not much different from going on holiday. But they have never run a marathon before, I hear you say, so it will be really hard for them, so hard in fact that they will suffer pain.

So it is the pain that we are sponsoring – I mean, paying for? Why is that a good thing? And does the logic still hold that if the participant is crippled in some way in the attempt, it is somehow even better? – yep, that was worth every penny. Why is the pain important? Is the Christian idea of suffering for someone else’s sins so inculcated into our consciousness that we automatically follow it unquestioningly? Most sensible people would simply stop doing something if it hurt them to the point of hospitalisation. But then would they be accused of not caring enough about the suffering members of the charity that they are collecting for? If it is about suffering then, why don’t these people do something that is thoroughly unpleasant and alien to them like working in a third world sweat shop for a couple of weeks? If it is about the caring then why don’t these people volunteer their time in the charity of their choice for no sponsorship money at all! Imagine that, no grand ego trip!

In days gone by, people simply asked for money to support a charity that they endorsed. Nothing wrong with that (assuming the money was used appropriately – a can of worms I won’t go into now). You either supported the charity or you didn’t. The idea of sponsoring as opposed to charity collecting has opened up another can of worms that has allowed the concept of ’sponsoring your local drug dealer’ to become a near reality.

So insidious is our consumerist society that even a deeply personal value of wanting to ‘do good’ in the world is now sold to the general public like an x-factor style event with premium rate telephone numbers.

I, for one, do not sponsor such a development.

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