‘Tis better to give

Inspired by comments on Angry African‘s latest post.

Why do people give to charity?  I’ve heard a lot of excuses.  A lot of rich people say that they feel an obligation to the society that allowed them to succeed and gain wealth- which may very well be true.  I’m sure the tax breaks and the status don’t hurt, either.  Poorer people give out of a recognition that there are those even more desperate.  Christian’s give because they feel it is their life calling. There is also belief in Karma- that all we give away is returned to us.  So some people give because they wish to receive, or they give because they already have received.  There are those who give when a life experience like a loved one being diagnosed with cancer brings to the forefront of their mind the need to establish foundations for those in need.

And then there are simply those who feel that being charitable should be a way of life.  Those who are motivated deeply by compassion for their fellow humankind.

Then there are those who make excuses.  There are those who say that it’s too hard to know where your money is going, and they don’t have the time to properly research.  There are those who say that by giving charitably you are taking away the impoverished man’s need to learn to care for himself.  There are those who say, “why delay the inevitable?  Allow nature to take it’s course.”  There are those who say that to be charitable is a calling- one they haven’t heard.  Better to leave the good deeds to those who are summoned for it.  There are those who say that charity is simply medicine for the conscience of the complicit, and not necessary for themselves.  There are those who say they don’t have enough time, enough money, enough passion.

Let God judge their hearts.

The ones who bother me the most are the ones who blame the charities.  The ones who talk about it being a bandaid on a deep bleed.  Why feed a child who will just starve later?  Why give clothes to someone who will always be jobless?  Why give medicine to the starving, the impoverished, the ones who will never do anything to better themselves?  Why save the unsalvable?

The basic premise of this sort of argument is that there is something inherintly unworthy about one class of people, but more worthy about another.  So why save the starving African orphans, who will likely always be impoverished and in need, instead of offering job training to poor people in one’s own country?  Well…  There are a few reasons.  The first is this:

  1. First I will acknowledge the fact that there are some nations where the problems of poverty and governmental corruption are so intertwined that it seems impossible to do anything to better the situations of the actual people involved.  I know that Mexico is like this- one can do very, very little to actually improve the lots of the poor.  All one really can do is give a little, year to year, day to day, and hope that it keeps them from dying.  Which is a tragedy.  It’s not the old axiom of “give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat forever”- they know how to fish, their governments just steal their fish.  So the question I ask in this situation is:  will you allow the corruption in the system to kill these people- or will you do as much as you can?
  2. I understand the reasoning- no matter how much money is thrown at some problems, they will persist.  So why even try?  Why not give money to a separate cause that has some greater hope of being eventually effective?  Well, it goes like this:  People in our country have options.  They have a government that has their back.  They can find someone to set up a nonprofit organization in their favor, they can apply for grants.  How is a starving African AIDS orphan going to do that?   Yes- I realize that people in my own country can only get that help if someone is willing to help them, and it may as well be me- but I tend to gravitate towards being sympathetic to the most urgent needs.  If the governments of some people will not stand for them, then someone else has to.  It might as well be you and I.

Ultimately there are a lot of ways to help.  If you want to be sure that all of your money goes towards helping someone who wants to help themselves, there’s always Kiva, which allows you to give a “micro loan” to someone who is trying to start a business.  A friend of mine gave $300 to a woman who wanted to start selling organic peanut butter, because he liked peanut butter- and it was a great experience.  There’s also the Heifer Project, another organization geared towards finding more long-term solutions to short-term problems.  I find that a lot of people complain about charity without actually informing themselves about what is out there and what they can really do.

So let me tell you:

YOU CAN DO A LOT- AN AWFUL LOT.

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Ubuntu: I am because you are

Ubuntu.

As a word it means “I am because you are.”

As a way of life it means so much more.  Ubuntu is taking a button off of your shirt to fix the shirt of a friend.  Ubuntu is sleeping on the floor so someone else can have the bed.  Ubuntu is in giving the last serving to your guests.  It’s the woman who gives you a glass of water, unprompted, because she senses you may be thirsty.  Ubuntu is in the eyes of the children, playing with one another, even though they may not speak the same language.  Ubuntu is in digging into the bottom of your pocket to give, even when you have nothing to live on but your smile.  Ubuntu is the old man on the corner, who gives away the wood he was whittling as a gift, because he enjoys the act of giving.

Ubuntu is that spirit inside all humanity that says “I am at my best and most human when my life serves others.”  It doesn’t mean that my own needs have no value- much to the contrary!  It means that my needs have value because when I am fulfilled, I can take that energy that comes from my fulfillment and pass it on to you in kind.  Then you can take that energy, and you can pass it on- one to the other, each in kind, the energy growing every time until we all move in circles in this beautiful dance, this beautiful dance played out to the music of our hands, all together- like dancing around the fire to the sound of drums.  A magical dance, the dance of life, a dance that has always been danced and will always go on for eternity.

The people of Senegal dance this dance well.  My church has worked there many times, and every time they come back with the stories of the Senegalese people.  They talk about how community is a way of life.  How hospitality and generosity are praised more than beauty.  They talk about people who work hard with their hands and give and give sometimes out of their nothingness, how there is nothing more impressive than the generous and open spirit through which they move.  And the name of that spirit?  It is Ubuntu- that I am, because you are.  Without each other we lose our meaning.

It is in that spirit that I accept the badge of Ubuntu that I have been given.  It is an honor, truly.  Ubuntu is how I have always tried to live my life, even though I never knew the proper word to describe it.  So I will take this energy, and I will pass it on.  The dance continues.

We must always dance.

Ubuntu!