It’s in our interest to take care of others. Self-centredness is opposed to basic human nature. In our own interest as human beings we need to pay attention to our inner values. Sometimes people think compassion is only of help to others, while we get no benefit. This is a mistake. When you concern yourself with others, you naturally develop a sense of self-confidence. To help others takes courage and inner strength.
– Dalai Lama
Last month, I wrote about how good it felt to fully concentrate on the keeping and care of three needy kids (three additional kids.) There was no real obligation to do this. It was just something I wanted to say yes to. And it felt really good. It felt really good to me.
In 2009, four scholars published a paper called, “Feeling Good about Giving: The Benefits (and Costs) of Self-Interested Charitable Behavior. Their proposed theory was that people give when they feel good, which then perpetuates more giving and more warm fuzzy responses. And they pondered the question of whether promoting giving, or appeals to charity may be associated with feelings of guilt that actually make the potential giver less likely to share. Confused?
No wonder happiness is such a struggle.
We should give to feel happy, which will make us happier but if we are pressured to give, we will feel sad, so don’t ask us to give. My friend Leslie runs a fantastic theater program in Evanston and one of her main tasks is to find donors. So she has to find people who care about the arts, who have something to give and who will donate their monies or services to her program. That's complicated.
We were talking about her work the other day on our morning walk and she mentioned a tool her theater uses to determine whether or not potential donors are “givers.” Simply put, they track former giving behaviors to determine future giving. This assumes that people are either givers or they aren’t.
This made me think about the people I know. Are my friends givers? Are my family members generous? Suddenly, I was kind of disgusted by some of the people I know and love because I've never seen them share their time or money with anyone else. Then I wondered about my own judgment of people who don’t share. Um, because I totally judge them. (Right here is where my friend Sarah would shake her finger and admonish me for assuming that I really know what people do with their time or money privately - Noted.)
Still, I don’t think it’s enough to be a nice person and take care of your own. You also have to help others. In fact, like Marian Wright Edelman said, “Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time.” But most people don’t even do it in their spare time. They don’t share their money, time, or their skills to help others.
That really pisses me off.
Maybe that’s unfair. Maybe we have to accept people and try to understand them for who they are, accept them. Maybe doing no harm is sufficient. Maybe that last sentence sticks in my throat.
When a famous republican politician came out in favor of gay marriage last year, and everyone was lauding the guy’s progress, one of my favorite authors’ Chris Crutcher wrote, “That’s not enough. I’m looking for heroes.”