Friday, October 4, 2019

Charity and Pride

I've been thinking a lot this year about charity - probably more than I should but if there's one thing I'm really good at it's overthinking.

At the most basic level charity is important because it helps those in need. That's sort of the whole point after all, but there's another level above that of what charity does for the benefactor.  Sure, it makes them feel good for having done something good.  More importantly, it pulls them out of their own internal world and reminds them that life isn't just about them; that there are other people out there struggling to get by.

That tells me it's important for at least some charity to be face-to-face.  Yes, it's much more efficient to give money to a big organization so they can deal with the logistics of feeding thousands on a daily basis, and this kind of giving is really needed.  But it's a kind of removed, impersonal act.  It's moving a blip from one account to another, easily divorced from the reality of what it means.

Putting food on a plate for someone has so much more impact.  You see another human being who is hungry and you're saying to them, "Here, I want you to live."

And then you feel good ... and this is where the pride comes in ... and that's not necessarily good.

To one degree or another, people have an inherent desire for validation from their peers.  If they've done something they want to tell others, and then be told it was a good thing to do.  This is perfectly natural and is an important part of how society works.  But when it's combined with charitable acts it tends to center thought on the benefactor rather than the beneficiary.  Giving becomes an act of seeking public approval and building social status rather than helping others.

A quick search on YouTube yields hundreds of videos of people giving. The titles shout things like "Giving Homeless People $1,000" and "FEEDING THE HOMELESS ON MY BIRTHDAY!!!"  They are testaments of generosity, but they've also received criticism for being "poverty porn" and for putting the recipients' lowest point in life out on the internet for the whole world to see.

Of course there's a flip side to this.  Public acts of charity encourage others to give as well.  They remind those who have that there are others who have not, and provide impetus to share the benefits of living in a society.

There's a surprising amount of things to think about
packed into this photo and its caption

I'm afraid I don't really have a conclusion that pulls this all together.  The best I can come up with is: Give if you can, sometimes publicly and sometimes privately.  If you have a lot to spare, give a lot.  If for whatever reason you can't give then help - even if it's just a small thing like helping a stranger up the stairs or tying someone's shoe.

It's a big, scary world out there sometimes and we're all in it together.

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