I define charity as benevolence toward those outside your immediate circle, and which, however motivated, prompts one to give of one’s time, money, skill and encouragement to those you perceive to be in need.
It’s very Canadian not to talk about philanthropy. There is the well known Canadian trait of being irritated with people who try to look better than others through one-upping them. Canadians love benevolent people but they are always looking for a chance to knee blowhards and self-aggrandizing public figures in the groin – in a blog, anyway. When they aren’t wishing physical violence on people they perceive to be hypocritical, they are whispering behind their hands about it. So, rather than talk about a subject which may cause discomfort, Canadians don’t generally talk about where they give their charity time and money to.
Today I’m going to examine my own charitable giving.
Up until the 25th of October, I wouldn’t give money to street beggars unless they were DOING something. Tunelessly blowing into a harmonica, check; holding the door open at the Granville Skytrain entrance, check, washing my window at a stoplight, check. Now I will give money to all the above noted people, but I have started giving money to people with pets. I know it’s ludicrous, but I know how important it is to be able to look after a pet, especially a dog, and how important that animal is for the mental health of the homeless person. I gave a lot of change out yesterday when I was walking downtown.
I give money to the BCCLA. I only started when I realized that they are among the most powerful of the NGOs staring down the various levels of government about the horrific assaults on social justice, freedom and access to information being occasioned in this fair city by the coming of the 2010 Olympics.
I give money to the church. I pledged almost 2/3rds less than last year, because if I stay unemployed that’s all I can afford. I may give more; I’m already volunteering time and brain power on various things. I’m not going to let it bother me; it is better to give unreservedly and without resentment than to make a splash and be bitchy about it in private.
I give money to a blogger named Philip Dawdy. Why? Because he’s doing original research and writing about the massive boondoggle that is modern drug based mental health. Elly taught me that it’s drugs if necessary but not necessarily drugs. For every person who’s been helped by drugs, there’s another who’s been conned into believing that a pill is a substitute for a) owning your shit b) eating properly c) getting enough exercise and d) ridding your life of toxic people, including your own parents and children if that’s what you gotta do to get well and stay sane. Also his cat just died, and I just bawled my eyes out when I read his blog post.
I give money to my children. That’s not charity, it’s self interest. But I will be able to give more money to charity when they are entirely self supporting, may that day come soonish.
I give money to Doctors without Borders.
I give money to the International Red Cross when there have been really big disasters.
I gave money to the BCSPCA, but never again; they, forgive the language, hounded me unmercifully for money after I gave $25 to support the animals who had to be moved during the big fires in the interior a few years back.
I have given money to the foundation for RCH because those folks have always treated me as I would want to be treated when I showed up in an ER, and because there’s never enough money for equipment and maintenance. I imagine I will give them money again; it’s money well spent even if I never need an emergency department again, because so many of my loved ones, fellow church members and colleagues need that hospital.
I give money to cancer research. I don’t always give much, but I try to give every year, and once again, even if I never need it, that donation is money well spent.
I gave to the United Way through payroll deduction virtually every year I worked at Xantrex, and helped with the campaign a couple of times. The last year I directed the money specifically toward isolated seniors and at risk preschoolers, because I think those groups are scandalously underserved.
When I had school aged children, I used to drive two blocks from my house and give the women’s shelter all the kids’ outgrown clothes and toys. I must have given five garbage bags full of clothing to them over the years.
When I perceive a need, and I have an excess at that moment, and it’s easy to give, I am more likely to give. When I am irritated with the collecting organization or I’m feeling poor, or otherwise tapped out, I don’t give at all.
And that about sums it up. Of course, I get hit for Girl Guide Cookies, chocolate covered almonds for sports teams, special donations at church (plus the collection plate), jingling Santas at malls, cans for various causes at the checkouts, and various charities campaigning outside liquor stores.
For me charity is an acknowledgement that I am doing well enough, financially and emotionally, to feel that I have something extra. Instead of sucking on my teeth and saying, “That’s awful,” I can do something. As it says in the hymnal, we can’t do everything but we can do something.
Nor is this a slap, intentional or otherwise, at people in my life who are financially tapped out looking after distinct and ongoing obligations which leave no wiggle room for charitable donations. You know what you’re struggling with. I just mean to talk about it as if it was a normal part of human behaviour, and to liberate charitable giving from the faux Christian “one hand not knowing what the other is doing” and “giving in secret” to keep the Lord happy.
Nor is this a slap at those who have time and no money.
I hope I’ve given some of you something to think about, anyway.