Samuel Johnson originated the phrase. It refers to people who endorse “goodness” (in the sense of charity, compassion and caring), but only in an abstract sense, not in actual deed. We live in a time awash in this sort of caring. By no means exhaustively, there are a number of obvious categories of such “friends”:
Vocal “joiners” and “supporters”. This has to be the largest group of friends. It covers everything from the bumper sticker crowd to pious businesses that trumpet their social conscience with slogans and jargon. Bed, Bath and Beyond is a great example of the latter, with their selfless, but ultimately hollow and meaningless, renunciation of petroleum products in the delivery of their wares. Chances are, if someone is trumpeting “sustainability”, they’re from this group. Most importantly, this group’s activism never extends past their verbal utterances.
Benevolent givers of other people’s money. Put U2 front man, Bono, at the head of this list. When not soaking up adoration and tour dollars, he travels the world lecturing (and hectoring) heads of state to pony up for African relief, while busily minimizing the tax load from his substantial income by playing musical residences. Personally, I’ve never heard of him giving a dime of his own money for anything.
Politicians. While these folks also qualify in the previous category, their goodness is amplified by the cloak that their jobs amount to “public service” – not merely politics, more like charitable work. That perhaps helps to explain why politicians are notoriously cheap in the actual donation of charitable dollars. I mean, they’re “sacrificing” every day.
Salaried do-gooders. You know those officiously earnest types who draw fat salaries to exhibit concern for this or that underprivileged segment of society. Normally, when they’re talking about doing good, they’re talking about beefing up budgets, increasing salaries or securing more commodious digs for their operations.
The segment of society actually doing something to improve the lot of their fellow man seldom trumpets their work and sacrifice. They quietly go about their business, perhaps actively avoiding recognition for their efforts as a distraction.