On Being Charitable

Thursday, January 26, 2012
So I was having a conversation over on Facebook yesterday with my good friend NeuronDoc on the topic of that leprous toad Joe Paterno, and she made a rather telling comment related to people's desire to be charitable:
"Donating money to charities is not a good deed. Oh, fine, donating money to worthwhile causes is laudable, but I don't consider it a good deed. Running a soup kitchen is a good deed." 
NeuronDoc is, of course, absolutely correct, and her observation made me hang my head in shame.

I support a large number of charities. I love, love, love Kiva. I support DonorsChoose every year. I support my various friends and family members when they participate in charitable endeavors such as "Walking for a Cure." I try to be generous with my disposable income. But I'm woefully short on good deeds. And this does not move me forward in my desire to be a mensch

The fact that I donate a portion of my disposable income is not a good deed. It's disposable, and so by definition, I won't really miss it. It doesn't really cost me anything in terms of sacrifice, and while the outcomes of my donations are positive, it doesn't really say much about me personally. My disposable income is a renewable resource.


A true mensch is someone who donates and sacrifices things that are not renewable. Things like time. To use NeuronDoc's example, someone who spends hours each week running a soup kitchen for the least among us has donated something that they'll never, ever get back, or get more of. My piddly donations to the various charities I like does not compare, and I would do well to kill my internal self-congratulatory smugness at my "generosity." I'm not generous in the way I'd like to be, although my donations might be labeled "laudable."

NeuronDoc reminded me of an important truth. Helping others should not be the antiseptic act of simply writing a check. It should be a much more personal affair. A fact I shall try to keep at the top of my mind moving forward.

9 comments:

Anne C. said...

I had not really thought about it like that, but Natalie is absolutely right.

Huh.

Something to think about. (True charity, not Natalie being right.)

mom in northern said...

Count your kniting....

neurondoc said...

Stupid typos. I shall fix and repost...

I am right occasionally. More often than TheHusband would admit to, methinks...

May I point out your knitting projects, Oh Prima Hot Chick?

I am way way more likely to donate money than my time like most people, but I believe that the time has more value. It's come up recently in a discussion about my grandparents, who are 94 and 96, and have a more finite amount of time than I, most likely. They want for nothing materially -- there's nothing I can buy them for their birthdays that they need or want. But I can schelp my ass up to NJ and spend time with them. Someday I won't be able to. It's not charity or being done for completely unselfish reasons, but it makes them happy.

As an aside -- you've gotten me hooked on kiva.org...

Janiece said...

I don't really count my knitting. It's kind of a compulsion, and I'd probably do it even if no one wanted or needed it. In other words, I do it for myself, for my own enjoyment, rather than to help others.

Jeri said...

Ouch. Profound and, for me, personally applicable insight.

Janiece said...

Jeri, me, too.

But for me, being shamed in this way - as opposed to the wholly unproductive "guilt" strategy - is usually a catalyst for meaningful change.

Stacey said...

Those of us who used to be in a position to donate money now donate time. HOWEVER, without those that are willing/able to donate said funds carrying their own load and dare I say some of mine, those of us that can only donate time would have nothing to do. So although to a certain extent I agree, I am happy, happy, happy to take the money with which you can and do give so readily and am willing to multiply it with my time. So, you are contributing to a good deed in the making which may not have happened without you. I could also point out that you have done countless good deeds for those of us that are able to call you friend, so no shortchanging yourself.

M.Conchita Abadia said...

What a lovely post.. I could not have put it better. Last paragraph holds all the truth for me.

Janiece said...

Welcome, M.Conchita Abadia, and thank you.