Many of the posts on this blog discuss the ways we create community through face-to-face interactions with friends, family, and neighbours. There are, however, times when we build our communities and society in more indirect fashions. Many of us give to charities and most of us pay taxes that help pay for community development. Giving blood is another example of indirect society building. We give blood so that fellow members of our society can live and unlike taxes, we do it voluntarily.
A couple of days ago I traveled down to the Manulife Centre and donated a pint of blood. I’ve not been a regular blood giver during my adult life, mostly because I’m not organized enough to make plans. However, Katie’s been giving blood regularly for the past few years and this has inspired me to make more of an effort. The process is not particularly enjoyable. First they prick your finger, then the ask a series of uncomfortable questions before forcing you to wait in uncomfortable chairs. The reward is a needle in the arm, a free juice box and a wound that leaves friends and co-workers wondering if you’ve taken up injecting hard-drugs.
So why do we do it? We don’t get paid for giving blood in Canada and the small tokens and smug sense of self-satisfaction are not worth the hassle. Instead, I think donating blood suggests to me that we do live in a society and at least some of the time we are willing to make small scarifies for the benefit of our fellow Canadians. Sure, there is a vague sense that we as individuals, or our loved ones, might need blood some day, but Canadian Blood Services provides blood to doners and non-doners alike. Margret Thatcher famously claimed that society did not exist, just individuals and families, but when I looked around at the range of people giving up part of their day and dealing with some pain at a doner clinic, I’m comforted with evidence that she was wrong.
Unfortunately there is a hitch: Canadian Blood Services feel they need to continue to drive a wedge into this otherwise harmonious community building activity. Each time I give blood I cringe when they ask the two awful questions about gay sex. Knowing the history of the tainted blood crisis, I recognize why they felt the need to exclude large sections of our society from giving blood (former residents of the UK, Africa and Mexico are excluded alongside gay men), I do think it is time for them to revisit this policy. At the very least they should consider the language and tone of the questions, as it feels very homophobic. I know people who boycott Canadian Blood Services because of their exclusion of gay men and I understand their decision, but I’ve reconciled my continued association with them with the knowledge that they’d willingly give my blood to those in need, gay, straight or unsure.
So while I think blood donations demonstrate that we live in a functioning society, clearly the exclusion of large sections of the population and the regular blood shortages confirm we do not live in a utopia. Nonetheless, I intend to keep giving blood. If you are interested in either giving blood or would like to learn more on donor eligibility visit: Canadian Blood Services.