Running and giving – marathon displacement activities

25 04 2010

Millions and millions are raised for charities each year.

For most of us our attention is drawn by the huge media spectacles – sports relief, children in need, the London marathon.

More and more I am feeling myself wondering if this is all just a massive displacement activity.

I’m sure that the hundreds that will be running the London Marathon on behalf of cancer charities do care about the plight of those suffering  but why not do something more relevant to the illness. A sponsored bed bath marathon, for example. The truth is that those raising the money don’t really care how the money is spent. I’d be surprised if the participants have much idea about the structure of the organisations they are running for. How much of the money raised goes to research, salaries, administration and the like.

To a large extent they are running 26 miles in 4 or 5 hours so that they don’t have to think about these things! They can drag themselves around the streets of London dressed as the back end of a pantomime horse, send off the sponsorship money and forget about the charity for another year. They have done their bit!

And the competitive element, particularly amongst the celebrities in the television spectaculars. It used to be acceptable to sit in a bath full of baked beans but now it is necessary to cycle across Europe by way of the international rugby stadiums, waterski across the channel or canoe up the Amazon. While it was heroic and glorious for Phidippides to run 26 miles to tell of a crushing naval defeat Eddie Izzard feels compelled to ape this effort by running 43 marathons in 51 days!

The point about the marathon is not that it is impossible but that anyone can do it! It isn’t that it is easy but it is just at the end of what can be achieved with some discomfort but without having to change your life. This makes it the perfect displacement activity.  Those sitting at home watching will be in awe of the sweating staggerers as they head up The Mall will be back at work on Monday none the worse for their exertions.

Endurance events have replaced genuine heroics. Climbing Everest cost Sir Edmund Hillary his life but now Josh Lewsey can set out in his footsteps for fun – and for charity – of course.

Charities have been very good at letting you do what you like doing, like running, and pushing the boundaries just enough so that even though anyone can do it the coach potatoes are impressed enough to dig deep into their pockets so that they can avoid doing anything at all – by raising themselves off the settee long enough to dial the freephone giving line they have done their bit too!

The charities have been so good that if I wanted to run a marathon just because I could, I would feel guilty that I wasn’t doing it for charity!

But the runners are doing something – however tangential to the needs of the sufferers – to raise money to be spent even though they know not where. How much more of a displacement activity is watching these spectaculars, picking up the phone, donating an easily affordable sum and thinking that’s good enough.

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