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Why we need to do more than just give to charity

December 5, 2010

Charitable giving is rooted in Christmas. Philanthropy is the worthier equivalent of exchanging presents amongst our family. We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, expected to think about the bigger picture at Christmas time. To think beyond the family convening on Christmas Day and consider those less fortunate than ourselves.

It is the right thing to do. It helps us offset the selfish love we all have for indulging during the Christmas season. We may not like the bandwagon we find ourselves forced to jump on, but if we give to charity, we are thinking of others. That will be make it better.

That’s what Scrooge learnt, after all. And if there’s one Christmas story burnt into our consciousness, it’s the one Charles Dickens wrote in 1843. If we do nothing else, we must be charitable at Christmas. And whether we like it or not, the more worthy or deserving the cause the better.

Now I come to think more about Christmas and charity, I find myself wanting to follow a different path past the myriad of charitable organisations asking for my money or those retail operations who could be seen to be increasing sales by waving the charity flag.

Anonymity in charitable giving is my problem. The more we do it, the more we are encouraged to it the further we find ourselves to the actual problem the money we hand over is meant to help solve or alleviate.

The mere act of giving our bank account details or handing over a handful of loose change on train station concourses is not necessarily the act of someone having consciously decided to act as a benefactor for that particular charity, more a move to avoid a clawing sense of guilt.

Street collections are – I’m afraid to say it – the worst. We’re not giving because we’ve seen someone with a yellow bucket and thinking “yes, I meant to give ten quid to you, thank God you’re here now”. Instead we’re thinking “I ought to give you something because I don’t know I could live with myself seconds after I’ve passed you and given nothing.” Or, if you’re as cynical as me, you’re quickly making a judgment as to whether the charity those collectors are representing are as authentic as they make out to be. If we do decide to give we’re probably not giving for the right reason.

We’re assuming that the act of parting with our money – any amount of money – is the act of generosity expected of us during the festive season. What we’re overlooking is that there needs to be an act of kindness associated with it.

Look at it this way. Like it or not, a lot of our time in the run up to Christmas is spent parting with our money. We’re making judgments all the time about whether or not the money we spend on a particular gift represents not value for money but will contribute to a magical Christmas for the recipient of the gift. There is – or at least should be – some kind of thought going into the act of giving. Why on earth aren’t we doing the same when we’re giving to charity? If you’re going to give money, then think who and why and then think how much. It’s my betting that if we thought a little bit more before did so, we’d probably give more.

If it is that giving to charity is really offsetting guilt, then it’s also vital we engage in something more than just thought. There should be some kind of physical act. Some effort exerted. This has the advantage of the giver appreciating first hand what the problem is. If there’s a connection between the giver and the ultimate recipient of that generosity, then something more valuable has been given than mere cash. Yes, money talks. Moments of love and respect are priceless however.

I’m advocating a kind of hard core charitable giving. A conscious effort made by all of us to actually do an act of kindness at Christmas instead of or as well as giving money enabling someone else to do the act of kindness on our behalf.

That’s not an easy mantra to follow. I appreciate that it’s quite easy to be all purist about such things given that I’m sat in a cosy warm kitchen, drinking a beer and listening to the radio. The actual act of going out and finding a homeless person to engage with, to buy them a coffee or a meal might seem like a daunting idea. But it is precisely for that reason that we should. Because to appreciate needs as near to first hand as we can is vital.

From → Life & Society

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