As virtually everyone on the planet has heard, last week the famous historical landmark, the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, partially burned down. The fire, which burned for hours before ultimately being extinguished by Parisian firefighters, destroyed the cathedral’s iconic spire along with some of the relics inside. Luckily, as of Tuesday, April 16, only one firefighter was reported being seriously injured by the flames. All others had only minor injuries. Miraculously, no one was killed.
In the aftermath of the fire, people flocked to the streets of Paris to mourn the loss of the icon and lend support to each other. In a similar fashion, people around the globe took to social media to express their sorrows and reminisce on past visits to the church. Overall, nice sentiments were made as people tried to make sense of the great loss of historic artwork and architecture. Soon, people began donating to a fund created to funnel money towards rebuilding the now-ashen spire. Quickly, this fundraiser had made over one billion dollars.
With the high-profile nature of this disaster and the extreme swiftness in which a large sum of money was raised, it is no surprise that people immediately started questioning and criticizing these actions. Almost overnight, several tweets went viral claiming that people should be putting their money into other efforts, such as homelessness or environmental protection, rather than just rebuilding an old church. One tweet explained, “I know that the Notre Dame is a very important landmark but the fact that billionaires have pledged over 600 million dollars in under 24 hours to help fix it just really puts into perspective how easily rich people could help solve world issues if they cared.”
This is a fair point. The amount of money that was mobilized in just a couple of days to help rebuild the Notre Dame is extreme. And yes, this incident certainly shows how much money a small group of people have and choose not to use to benefit others. However, does that mean we should shame those who are giving to this cause now? While I do believe that the Notre Dame burning may not be as pressing of an issue as something like climate change, and more funds certainly should be devoted towards educating people and finding solutions to climate change, one issue does not invalidate the other.
We live in a world now where people are always competing for who has it worse and claiming that one person’s problems are more substantial than another. However, living in this mindset does not help issues get solved. Just because people are criticizing the wealthy for pouring money into Notre Dame rather than into other issues does not mean this will suddenly change their actions. Instead, it makes people feel as though they can only help one cause: Notre Dame or some external issue. If these critiques make people refrain from donating or helping out causes besides Notre Dame, or turn them off from donating to any at all, then aren’t they doing much more harm than good?
The idea that we must always support the most worthy cause makes sense in theory, but this is not how people actually behave. We set up GoFundMe pages to support sick friends or injured family members and we ask for donations to clubs all the time. When these efforts raise money, nobody says we should’ve spent our money on a more worthy cause that could benefit more people. While the situation with Notre Dame is clearly different, as this was huge amounts of money raised, the same precedent still applies. People have the right to donate their money to the causes that they themselves deem worthy. And isn’t that better than refraining from donating at all?
While I agree that there are much more significant problems out there that need funding and attention, we should not be trying to invalidate the tragedy that is the destruction of Notre Dame. Instead, we should focus our attention on thanking those willing to give, and continue trying to persuade them and others to give to other worthy causes. Helping the reconstruction of Notre Dame is not an inherently bad effort, but with the reactions from social media some may be inclined to think it is. Instead of tearing others down and deeming their causes less worthy, we need to try to build people up and encourage them to support other groups in need as well.
Emma Hungaski is the associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.