In the magical world of television and theater, a term exists known as the fourth wall. The fourth wall is in fact, not a wall at all, but a lack of said wall. Stages and television sets are built with three walls, leaving one side open for the audience for viewing or cameras for filming. However, actors are to perform as if there is a fourth wall to the room and avoid engaging with the audience. A wall we as an audience can’t see, yet we believe is there as we view the act. While this is less of an issue in television, when it comes to plays the fourth wall is critical to the story. An actor can’t stop and yell at the man on the second row as he coughs for the 100th time. The actor would break the rule of the fourth wall by yelling at the man in row two and ruin the show.
As humans, we so often put up the fourth wall around us and avoid seeing something which is truly there. As if we are the actors pretending the audience isn’t sitting in the room. I recently attended an event where an organization was encouraging a monthly giving. As the event went on, I kept hearing the phrase “you won’t even notice the money being charged each month” as if there was a fourth wall between the donor and the recipient. An audience member I couldn’t see. This isn’t the first time I have heard this marketing tactic and I doubt it will be the last. If I’m contributing to an organization, I want to know about it. I would also like to note, this is a terrible marketing tactic. Imagine Dior running perfume commercials ending in the line “You’ll never know you’re wearing it”. Terrible idea.
In a culture where life is automated, we are quick to hand over our credit card and ignore the monthly charge to our account. We hand over our number with no say in the use of our money or establish a bond with the those receiving the funds as the fourth wall is built between us and the organization. Yes, some days organizations just need funding. However, If I’m donating my money, I want to be more than just monetarily invested, I want to be emotionally invested as well.
Automated donation is not the only fourth wall creating a false sense of “doing good” and being charitable. We are quick to share, like and retweet for a worthy cause, however social media can establish a fourth wall. While word of mouth is a great marketing tool, if all we are doing is clicking a button on our phone, we’re not helping. Yes, we walk away feeling as if we’ve done a little good when we update a profile picture with a charitable filter, but we really didn’t help any one. In a book titled Acts of Conspicuous Compassion: Performance Culture and American Charity by Sheila C. Moeschen, she states
“The alienating forces of Internet make it steadily more difficult to grapple with the material, political and social facets of any cause in responsible, meaningful ways.” ( p.162).
While social media provides a great platform to get information out to the community, it also builds a fourth wall to the emotional connectivity between the person liking a facebook post and organization. We can post about an issue until our fingers break, but if we don’t get ourselves involved, we’re missing the bigger picture. Having donors and volunteers emotionally invested is critical to the success of the organization.
I’m not against donating money or promoting a worthy cause on social media, I’m just saying we need to tear down the fourth wall. I believe living our lives on mission and spreading the good news requires 3 people. The dreamers, the doers, and the donors. We need dreamers to dream the big dreams the rest of us think are just a little ridiculous, but might just work. We need doers to come alongside the dreamer and be the labor force behind the dream. Schools and water wells don’t build themselves. While the dreamers and doers are bringing the dream to life, the donors need to come along with support because occasionally dreams take money and/or material goods. I believe we are all gifted and blessed to be one of these three or maybe two. But one person can not be all three. Maybe you’re called to be a doer or blessed to dream big dreams. Maybe life has you in a season where all you can manage is a donation and a prayer. Which ever role you are in, just make sure there’s not a fourth wall.
Over the past two years, I’ve worked with two organizations, Hello Hope as a doer with their free parking day and Legacy Collective as a donor. Yes, I know where my money is going and I even have a say in it through nominating organizations and voting on grant recipients. Both of these organizations have worked hard to break down the fourth wall and I’ve enjoyed being emotionally connected with their missions.