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Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Charity begins with giving

Seeing the recent comment from Gorse Fox regarding charitable giving, I felt compelled to write a blog on the subject, because I think he makes a good point.
It is interesting how the US and UK differ in their approach to charity.  I know there are UK folks who do a lot and/or give a lot*, but the US really do seem to have a consistent approach to the "attitude of gratitude" whereby they make their money, then they structure their charitable giving accordingly.  There are the headline givers like Gates and those he has inspired, but it does seem that the famous and wealthy, or just the wealthy, do have a healthy sense of charity.  

Talking of Gates, I remember seeing an interesting documentary on Mr and Mrs Gates, and they talked about their charitable foundation, and that they planned to fund it with an initial thirty five billion dollars.  Now that is a bit more than a pocket full of loose change.

I had reason to ponder charity and the sacrifices some people people make to help others recently when I had a Friends Reunited note from a guy I used to go to school with in the eighties.  Let's call him Stan.  The main thing I remember about Stan is that he once did two thousand sit ups for a sponsored event.  Needless to say he was fit and strong, but that didn't stop him walking round bent double for half a week afterwards.  Anyway, I got a little note from Stan to say that he is now a Catholic priest working with the poor in the Philippines.  Yikes.  That reminds me of one of my favourite slights that Fraser used.  "In a University in Switzerland, there is a microscope so powerful that it can see the gap between two molecules, yet even that is not strong enough to see the interest I have in your story."  I imagine this would also not be enough to see my charitable work when compared against Stan's. 

So this got me to thinking about charity, and what I do and don't do, and the answer is not much.  I used to have a monthly direct debit for a charity, but I cancelled that during the "hard times", and I have to say that I was never entirely sure that that really hit the mark in terms of charitable giving.  I know it does give the money to the charity of my choice, but it is very sterile and it does feel a bit like "I gave £20 to Live Aid so I have done my bit for world hunger" or some such thing.

So then I got to thinking about selfishness, and concluded I was at least partly selfish.  It is so easy to get wrapped up in our own lives, especially when it is so busy we don't know whether we are coming or going, and you dig your little trench so fervently that you cannot see over the top to get a sense of the world around you.  Would I be prepared to give up a lot of what I have, and go and work with the poor in the Philippines?  Unfortunately the answer is "no".

* I did read an article leading up th Christmas about some UK folks who were giving up to 30% of their salaries, which again is a very fine thing to do and I admire their dedication to doing what they see as the right thing.

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