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Thursday, January 01, 2015

Shanghai's Disastrous New Year's Eve Stampede: The Unintended Consequences of Giving Foolishly

Nearly 40 people died last night in a tragic stampede in Shanghai, just a short walk from the Bund Center where I work. To the right is a photo of portion of the Bund in Shanghai, near the region of the stampede. I've been to the area of the tragedy many times and have experienced the intense crowds that can form on almost any day of the week (the biggest crowds tend to be near the Peace Hotel, the building with the green pyramid on top).

The New Year's Eve crowd must have been far denser than average. As the crowds gathered at Shanghai's most popular area to celebrate the arrival of 2015, apparently someone from a bar on the 4th floor of a building overlooking the Bund tossing out what looked like American money. Initial reports say it was money, but it now appears that the paper was just a coupon advertizing the bar. The people below thought it was American money and many started grabbing the money, perhaps stooping down to pick up money, and a chain reaction of falling people may have been started in the press of the crowd. Heartbreaking, troubling, and so unnecessary in one of the safest and most pleasant large cities in the world. My sympathies to the many families and friends suffering loss.

Coupons or real cash, the tragic result of someone "giving" foolishly is a reminder of the unintended consequences that can occur when we toss out money or gifts without considering the possible results. Sometimes acts of giving can verge on the criminally irresponsible, even if there were some form of good intentions. The intentions in this case, though, may not have been all that good. If the purpose was to benefit the giver, as might have been the case, then we also have a tragic object lesson about the business model that many follow these days, including those who seek power by being irresponsibly generous with other people's money.

Sometimes giving can be callous. I saw an act of this kind recently in Shanghai when a man walking by a beggar with a severe deformity smirked as he tossed a couple of coins behind his back at the beggar and then turned to watch the man scramble a bit for the money on the sidewalk. Maybe the giver meant well, but there was an air to the act that saddened me. Much worse, I've heard of tourists on cruise ships at port tossing coins to throngs of children below to watch them scramble and struggle for the money.

In the Gospel of Jesus Christ, giving and generosity is essential, but we are taught to give out of love, not a desire for selfish gain or publicity. We are taught to minister to individuals and to seek inspiration through the Spirit of God to best tailor what we do to meet the real needs of those we help. We are taught to consider the consequences of what we do and seek carefully to do what will genuinely bless the lives of others.

We must not ignore those in need. We should be generous when possible and kind always. For those we do not know well, for situations far too complex for us to know how to best help, we often can't make a wise decision on our own, and need to be sensitive to the whisperings of the Spirit to know how to help to do real good.

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Update: When I got back to Shanghai on Jan. 2, my cabbie (usually a good source of info on current events) explained that the authorities now think that the coupons tossed from the bar were not the cause of the stampede. The place where people were being injured in the stampede was across the street from the bar, not just below it, so it's unlikely to have been the cause.

4 comments:

Jenny Evans said...

Wow, so sad. I used to live in an area where I got approached by panhandlers asking for money a lot, sometimes several times a week. So I've given a lot of thought to this topic. I actually wrote a post on it not too long ago over at my blog Unremarkable Files. Such a complicated topic, especially for Christians who mean well and feel like the right thing to do is to help others.

Orbiting Kolob said...

I remember being at Disneyland with my family for the Bicentennial on July 4, 1976. (Yeah, I'm old.) There was a record crowd, and instead of trickling out gradually, everyone stayed to the end of the big fireworks display. Then everyone tried to leave at once. As the mass of 50,000(?) or so people moved toward the gates they were compressed more and more. Where my family was, the pressure built up so much and people got packed so tightly together my feet didn't need to touch the ground. It was getting really scary. Finally we heard people ahead of us start to chant "Go back! Go back!" For a while we couldn't go back, but we started chanting, too, in the hope that the message would work its way back to the people who could still move. Finally we were able to move back and out of the crowd and just sit and wait.

I've never been so frightened in my life.

Cindy said...

This is a sad situation which seems to have been brought about because of a poor motivation for the giving.

God's Word has much to say about giving, mostly that our giving is determined as righteous or not based on our motivation.

If we give to receive any blessing in return, our works are as the filthy rags that Isaiah describes.

If, on the other hand, we "give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" 2 Corinthians 9:7
then our gifts glorify God and not ourselves.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Yes, there can be real helplessness in a moving crowd like that.

Even when a big crowd is gentle, it can swiftly separate family members. Be sure to discuss this possibility and have a plan, and make sure kids know what to do if they are separated from parents in those kind of situations.

Anyone have best practice tips for that scenario?