Giving

It's the time of year when we all talk about giving - about presents and charity, about what we can buy for our parents who have everything they need and our kids who want things far more expensive than what we can afford.  It's become quite popular in recent years to give to charity rather than receive unwanted gifts. The amount of paraphernalia we get in the mail asking us kindly to support the Animal Aociety, a global health charity, the local homeless mission ... It must cost them a fortune to post these our, hence the increasing numbers of emails and online campaigns. Hence the street campaigners who accost us as we walk to work, to catch up with friends or to get our groceries.

With all of these messages all around us, it becomes almost impossible to still feel empathy for these causes.  We are charity-fatigued.  There are so many things in the world that need fixing. There are so many problems with the world. The whole world seems depressed, starving, stuck in slave trade, homeless and without equal opportunities. It's enough to make us feel guilty for being considerate, vegan, environmentally friendly and global conscious human beings.

I was listening to a presentation by Somaly Mam today, a woman sold into sex slavery in Cambodia. She is campaigning to make people aware of the increasing sex trade - the fact that sex slavery is beginning to rival the drug trade in dollar figures.  The fact that girls as young as six or seven are sold into this trade - and in great demand - because it is considered in some communities that being with a virgin will act as a cure for HIV/AIDS.  I was shocked, moved and incredibly saddened by these stories.  At the same time, I had no idea what I could do to help.

In many ways, my experience in the not-fo-profit arena has taught me that I don't HAVE to donate money to every cause. Money is not always the best way to help. Firstly, that would be financially impossible. Secondly, I don't think that's the point.

It might be controversial to say this. But I think we all think it at some point or another.  There's a huge difference between feeling a connection with a cause and donating money to ease our sense of guilt. We can talk about these big problems facing the world.  We can discuss solutions. We can give as many opportunities as possible to those who have needlessly suffered.  But we don't need to give our money to every single cause.

It is for this reason that I object to the street charity salespeople - the ones that stand in mobs of four or six on major street corners, tracking you down and demanding credit card details.  I have a couple of major problems with this. First, I'm not writing down my credit card number on a piece of paper that some person with few credentials will keep in a pile at TownHall train station. Second, I cannot make an informed decision about the charity given the limited knowledge many of these salespeople have. Third, I don't feel particularly charitable when you get in my way while I'm going about my daily business.  I am one of those nice people who generally smiles at whoever is coming my direction,which makes it doubly as difficult when I don't want to seem rude.  That said, I try to be nice, apologetic and understanding.

I find it quite bizarre that many of these organizations do not have alternatives available should you wish to donate time instead of money.  Recently, I was telephoned by a particular charity and I thought their cause of worthy.  As it is the festive season, I didn't have spare change to give away but would happily have spent a few hours doing something useful. The person on the other end of the call was shocked by my question and uncertain if there were opportunities.  Surely time is an excellent way to harness both skill and community awareness. This is a good way to spread the word of the charity.
I recognize that I keep using the word charity. I also feel like we need to reconsider the word. We need to move away from a model of giving money in order to appease our sense of being unfairly privileged.  There is nothing wrong with having a good life, especially if you spend time trying to make things better for other people. We need to appreciate the value of our skills to NGOs and small not-for-profit organisations in increasing equality, wellbeing and environmental sustainability. We need to be conscious of our impact on the world and take steps to reduce this.  We need to reconnect with our humanity.  Giving $20 a month direct debit to charity won't achieve that - it will just reduce your savings balance. It will be a few less coffees on your account. It doesn't make you a better person, try as you might to believe that.

So how do you give, properly? Well, I don't think it's just about giving.  Giving implies that you are better than the receiver.  That you have the upper hand.  It can be easy to forget the resilience, the struggles and the skills of the people or groups to which you donate.

Think about it as sharing.  You are sharing your time, money and commitment with an organisation. You are sharing your passion for increasing equality, or decreasing discrimination, or reducing deforestation or...whatever it is...with those who can take action. You are trying to make the world a better place, however you understand that change occurring.  It might not be the same better place that your neighbour would imagine, but then we don't all think the same things either. Make your change. Make your impact. Make the world something that your nieces and nephews, cousins, children or students might enjoy. Share your experiences. Listen to those of others. Be a part of a movement, rather than a side-line supporter.

If you share, you will be a better you each and every day.

In the words of Rocca, nous sommes la lumière du chemin ou nous allons.


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