Thursday, December 14, 2006

If you give without giving, do you get anything?

My previous post was on Peter Singer's article about the value of a human life and the implications for philanthropy. Singer's article in the New York Times Magazine (upcoming, December 17, subsc. req'd) provides a concise overview of several western philosopher's thoughts on philanthropy (Hobbes, Kant, Pogge, Liam Murphy, Kwame Anthony Appiah).

Turns out this injection of philosophy was just in time for me, ever the pragmatist. I came across this Inc. Magazine slide show, called Giving without Giving which highlights all the ways you can shop for yourself and have some of the costs go to good works.

As a child of parents, I was raised to believe that the "joy is in the giving." As a parent, I try to help my six-year old value giving as much as he enjoys getting. I'm afraid that the message of "buy for yourself and call it giving" just doesn't work for me.

Here's a basic message about giving that resonates fully (for me):

At synagogue last week, our Rabbi told a wonderful story about a young man in an airport lounge who thought that the old guy sitting next to him was helping himself to the young guy's bag of cookies. Relieved to finally be ready for his trip, the young man chose to ignore the odd behavior. Even when the old guy reached in, grabbed the last cookie, smiled at the young guy, broke the cookie and handed him a half, and got up and walked away - the young guy just thought "how odd." When they called his seating area to board, he stood up, grabbed his bags and, in doing so, dropped his unopened bag of cookies. It turns out he had been helping himself to the old guy's cookies all along. The moral (according to our Rabbi) "who is the giver and who is the getter? is not always clear." The story came my way in synagogue, but I ran it by friends who could have easily heard it in Church, in a Mosque or in a Friends Meeting House - it rang true to them as well. It also struck me as the western, modern life version of the stories told in The Poor Philanthropist.

We seem to have gotten so advanced in our ability to tie charitable donations to other activities that we have convinced ourselves that we can give without sacrifice. Its very George Bushian in my mind, after all, he tried (sadly, successfully) to sell Americans on fighting a war without sacrifice - better yet, Bush is fighting a war backed by tax cuts!

This mind set just doesn't work for me. Part of giving something is that it should have an effect on you. Sacrifice maybe, but at the very least enough of an impact to make you think about your place in the world, those who give to you, those to whom you give, and the ways and means of our interdependence.

Here's the greatest irony. What does the giver get from giving without giving? Nothing.

1 comment:

Gayle said...

Hi Lucy,

Thank you, thank you and thank you!

As someone who is relatively new to the blog-o-sphere, I've been dismayed that ongoing “for-profit philanthropy” discussion seems to be removing the gift from giving. I’m all for increasing the supply of capital available to address the world’s ills and strategically using such resources, but a gift freely given transforms not only those who receive, but those who give, teaching us to move through the world with more humility, compassion and grace. Like you, “I’m afraid the message ‘buy for yourself and call it giving’ just doesn’t work for me.”

Cannot there be a place at the table for both corporation socially responsible business practices and increased philanthropy? Why must the expansion of the former redefine the later? Of course, that’s a rhetorical question. Space here limits an adequate response, but if they haven’t already heard it, I would encourage your readers to find Dr. Muhammad Yunus’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech from earlier this week online, as he put it much better than I ever could.

Perhaps I’m old school, but as a fundraiser, my credo is one I learned from Hank Rosso. “Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.” So I thank you for being a teacher.