I’m running a day late this week because I stayed home from work with an ailing dog on Monday. As a result, the threads of my thoughts are splintered, sort of like a tree whose main trunk divides into 3 or 4 veins. Each thread is larger than normal and my thoughts are not quite balanced.
One of the thoughts is related to giving. On a more elemental level, giving evolves from awareness and compassion, so perhaps that is where this particular thought originates too. I read two blog posts in two days about giving and guilt. The guilt of living in prosperity, when compared with a life of limitation, the guilt of being so consumed with the myriad problems of living a prosperous life that the larger problems of humanity are eclipsed from view, and the guilt of having done nothing to help.
Both of the blog authors are female. I have a hypothesis, but no quantifiable information with which to back my hypothesis (so take it for what it’s worth), that guilt is more prevalent among females than males. The next logical step after guilt is shame, and shame is a dangerous, spiraling trap that keeps us focused inward. Consequently, we have done nothing to help, have gained awareness that help is needed, but are now so ashamed that we become paralyzed and do nothing but retreat. In helplessness.
I was not raised in a family where the spirit of giving to others was prioritized as a core value. My father was the product of an impoverished upbringing during the 1930s and 1940s. His parents did not ask for or receive assistance and my father’s stoic observation as a youngster was that it was the responsibility of each family to make it on their own. A view perhaps valid for its time, but outdated in my lifetime.
Life is not a level playing field. In our country, educational opportunities are not equal for all children. The safe home and nourishing meal that I never concerned myself with as a child, are indelible question marks in the lives of many children and often manifest as barriers to education. Social problems stem from a complex set of issues, but poverty and lack of education are intertwined and lie firmly knotted within the root causes.
I have a job in the business of philanthropy. What I have learned from this business is that those who make donations often do so because they feel connected to a cause and they feel their gift will make a difference. The fact that they have not made a donation to a particular cause in the past is not a sufficient reason to feel guilty, it is only an opportunity to learn, to understand why the program exists and who it helps. Armed with an adequate level of information, the prospective donor can make a decision about whether to support that particular cause with a financial contribution.
Once, during a time of relative abundance in my life, I expanded my own philanthropic wings and made two sizable donations (sizable within the context of my personal giving experience) to two different organizations in one day. I am certain that if either organization had personally approached me subsequent to those gifts, offered an opportunity to learn more and presented a case for support, I would have increased my giving even further. But it didn’t happen. I attempted to volunteer my time with one of the two organizations, but their lack of directed leadership was disheartening and I eventually went away altogether.
I have a theory that people who have a healthy relationship with philanthropy also have a healthy relationship with money. They spend their money on things they value and maintain a realistic perception of their own financial status. I also have a theory that those of us who live in prosperity (again, in the context of the world at large) have a responsibility to our neighbors to extend the hand of friendship.
We can all do something to help. Banish the guilt and shame and simply do something. Contribute, volunteer, advocate, develop an attitude of curiosity and tolerance.