The psychology of charity
March 12, 2009
Under what circumstances would you feel comfortable accepting monetary assistance?
I was recently asked, why, if the benefactor was willing and able, can I not accept help? That question meant monetary help, and that’s a critical difference from all other kinds of help, so that’s the part we’re going to address today.
During a conversation about the economy, the state of my career, and rather justifiable (in my mind) anxiety that I might be flat broke 12 months from the date I’m laid off, this rather potent question was asked. And I floundered in answering.
Because I can’t stand the taste of humble pie? Because I’ve not asked for money since I was 17? Because if I can’t stand on my own, I would still like to have my pride? In this last reason, I’m staunchly my father’s daughter, even despite the grief that’s brought me in his practice of it.
The truth is, it’s all of that and more. It’s that I would only think of myself as “needing help” if I were in truly dire straits. If I couldn’t afford the rent, the bills, the groceries. I wasn’t brought up specifically with this particular insane independent streak, but I’ve developed the mindset that it’s simply unfathomable to think that I would ask for money if I weren’t at the end of my resources. Arriving at that point, however, means that there’s a whole world of guilt and uncertainty involved. I wouldn’t need small sums of money, it’s not just spotting me a tenner for lunch. It’s rent, it’s gas, it’s insurance, it’s big money.
In my personal experience with money and people, you cannot rely on others for your basic needs: you stand or die alone. That’s not true for everyone, though, and I realize that from the outside, it looks like arrogance. (At least one friend has interpreted it that way.) After all, I always step up and help others to the best of my abilities. It may not take the form of cash but it’s still help. How then, do I lack such faith in good people and insist on such isolationist responsibility?
I’m casting about for a better understanding of the mentality that allows me to be liberal in my giving, and highly conservative in my getting. Does this attitude need adjusting? If so, how do I remain true to my bootstrapping principles, while recognizing when it’s appropriate to accept assistance? Or is the second fear, that it’s a slippery slope from asking for help when needed to asking for help all the time, justified?
*Note: One rather astute friend pointed out another way to look at it: if asking for and accepting help is so foreign or unfathomable, then I can trust that I will do everything in my power to prevent that situation from developing. At least there’s that.
**Another Note: Perhaps I’m uncomfortable with having to be on the receiving end of this conversation.