Tuesday, 13 November 2012
Giving -and counting the cost?
I heard in the news today that giving to charity is down by 20%, a statistic that is not perhaps surprising given the current economic climate. I do wonder though if it is just those who are suffering financially who are more reluctant to give. Every year we run an appeal in college where tutor groups are invited to put together a shoebox to be sent to a poor family or orphanage in Romania. This project used to be undertaken with great enthusiasm by the students, but over the past few years I've noticed an increasing reluctance to contribute and I don't know if this is due to hardship or just to a general "why should we give to others" or even "what a load of scroungers" attitude that is becoming more common nowadays?
Giving does, of course, bring its own problems. We may be aware that few of our acts are purely altruistic, we give because it make us feel good. I've been thinking about this recently and I am not sure this is so much of a moral problem, perhaps we are designed in such a way as to make us get pleasure from giving - not just financially but to our friends, our work, our loved ones. Is it so wrong to give because it completes us as human beings? There is the more complex problem of whether our giving really benefits others. If we give to food banks, does it encourage dependency?Iif we give to a shoebox appeal, should we check that that charity does not simply have its own ulterior motives? There has been criticism and unease about the fact that some charities include christian tracts and leaflets in their shoeboxes and accusations that this is simply a form of evangelising wrapped up with emotional blackmail rather than purely with love.
The reading last Sunday was about the widow's mite, a story which is open to a variety of interpretations and often used as a way of inducing guilt in those who are reluctant to give! I'm not sure it should be used that way, but at the same time I don't think it is acceptable to opt out of giving - when we are able to give- simply because of these issues and complexities. We certainly should be aware of the complexities of giving, we should also be aware that our criticisms of the act of giving can also be part of an excuse not to give at all. I have started to show the above youtube clip to students before I get them to put together a shoebox. I find it dramatically increases the amount they give. Perhaps sometimes we fail to give out of a lack of imagination. Perhaps it is a failure to really see other people? I read a quote by Jeanette Winterton recently that really struck me, it was an article about poverty in which she wrote that the poorer we are materially, the more we need inner resources. I think it might be equally true that the richer we are materially, the more we need inner resources - and it is our inner resources and imagination as much as our money or our means that allows us to give freely and cheerfully.