By: Revanche

Poverty, Water, Animals: On Charity and the Why

March 12, 2014

Charity: Why I think it's important to give, even if you can only give a littleA good friend and I were talking about money, charity and volunteering one day and he expressed an opinion that took me aback.

We’re so often in agreement given our remarkably similar backgrounds, we put ourselves through school, supported our families from a young age, worked really hard for a long time to get where we are, that I struggled to understand why he was against volunteering and charity.

While I feel that I worked really hard to get here, I didn’t get here without help; he feels that he worked really hard to get here and doesn’t feel that he got any help so he doesn’t feel he should give back to the community at large. Granted, we didn’t travel the exact same path but it’s hard for me to fathom overlooking the small kindnesses of strangers, like the support from a guidance counselor or a colleague who lobbied for your job security. These are the kinds of things that, though small, add up. They make a difference.

Pat Rothfuss, one of my favorite writers and a stand-up kind of guy, explained it far better than I managed that day:

The simple truth is, Jason, at this point in my life, I have enough money to live comfortably. And in my opinion, if you have enough money to live comfortably and you keep trying to get more and more and more money… well… it’s kind of an asshole thing to do.

It’s like this: if you have one piece of cake, and you eat it, that’s fine.

If you have two pieces of cake, you should probably share some with a friend. But maybe not. Occasionally we could all use two pieces of cake.

But if you have a whole cake, and you eat *all* of it, that’s not very cool. It’s not just selfish, it’s kinda sick and unhealthy.
[…]
That’s why I do all the charity work. Because the world isn’t as good as I want it to be.

I don’t have a better explanation than that for why I felt compelled to help those who have less. “The world isn’t as good as I want it to be”, so, let’s do something about that.

I don’t belong to the “have too many cakes” camp, particularly since I still support two adult dependents who aren’t my children, but while I aim to become that kind of wealthy someday, I don’t need to be that wealthy to want to make a difference. I can’t save any one person but sometimes a helping hand is all you need, sometimes it gives you enough hope to scrape yourself off the floor and keep going.

And that’s why I still give. Even though I’m all about personal responsibility and bootstrapping, I remember when a kind gesture was enough to help me do another job, fight another day.

PiC and I get an annual spending allowance out of our shared budget. This is purely for us to spend, however we want, that has nothing to do with necessities which are covered. It’s not much, but it’s not little either.

I usually hoard mine (SMAAUUGGGG) but this year, I’m making a conscious effort to give between 10-20% to meaningful charities.

Pat Rothfuss’s Worldbuilders was one: This was a massive fundraising drive to donate to Heifer International. They do good work, without much waste, and helping people make their own livelihood resonates with me.

Nathan Fillion and his Clean Water campaign for his birthday is another. I love my Captain and I love clean water for people. I remember, growing up, hearing the stories of how the people in our villages had to carry their water, in buckets, up from the streams. Backbreaking work for survival.

Last, and most dear to my heart, the Humane Society & Rescue Organization where we adopted Doggle. Rescuing animals: FTW!

Also, as always, I’ll be collecting things that are in good shape but we really don’t need anymore and donating them to charity that can use them: homeless and battered women/children’s shelters.

Which side of the fence do you stand on? What are your thoughts on the subject?

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25 Responses to “Poverty, Water, Animals: On Charity and the Why”

  1. Shelley says:

    Must admit to being fairly stingy. My biggest luxury is not going out to work. Together our income is about that of an individual’s average income here in Britain. On a world-wide scale, we are definitely wealthy, on a British scale, not so much. Probably my biggest or most consistent contributions to charity are my donations to and purchases from local charity shops. After that I spend money with Kiva, which isn’t charity at all, but I like the idea of helping people reach their own financial goals. I target women in places like Sierre Leone or Uganda; I’d like to choose health or education, but most are just shops selling food or clothing; I also try to support agriculture and homes. I occasionally make larger (£100) contributions to WaterAid, Planned Parenthood or to friends who are raising money for a cause that is close to their heart (one young man was doing a triathlon in aid of the hospital unit that glued him back together after a near-fatal car wreck; also as a personal celebration). I looked around for volunteer work but didn’t find anything that suited me; I’m conscious that charity is big business and the personal dynamics of some of these situations was awkward to me. I try to contribute to my community by supporting local groups like craft groups and the WI, my running club and by getting to know my neighbours a bit better (without being intrusive). I think your friend who believes he’s ‘done it all on his own’ is deluded. We all benefit in some way from parents or teachers, community organisations, friends, relatives, neighbours, sometimes strangers. I don’t know if your friend is puffed up, has a chip on his shoulder or is just a bit blind, but I’m pretty sure he’s been helped somewhere along the line by someone. I’m all for people pulling their own weight in the world and I’m all for wealth accumulation if that’s your thing. But I’m also in favour of having a kinder society with safety nets, helping hands, educational and work opportunities, labour laws. I’ve visited India and Africa and I decided that a society divided into the very rich and the very poor is not a pretty sight; I don’t think it is a pleasant place to live even if you are in the wealthy category. Besides, giving back doesn’t only benefit the recipient. Giving something – even it is just our time or experience – makes us feel a part of something outside ourselves.
    Shelley recently posted…Spring CleaningMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      After your opening sentence, I think you go on to contradict yourself quite a lot! I don’t think you’re stingy at all, you’re careful and thoughtful about how and when you give. That’s admirable. I particularly like choosing to spend your money where it also benefits a good cause. One dollar should always do two jobs, in my opinion.

      We are, first and foremost, responsible for ourselves if we’re going to help others, and it makes sense not to squander what we have, especially when it’s not a great deal for our needs. And I do agree, a society where all the money is in the hands of a few is simply not a place I want to be. Granted, I’m not likely to become one of those few but it’s still good to do what we can, isn’t it?

  2. SP says:

    I don’t really donate much to charity, though I do agree more with your viewpoint. My actions just aren’t there… so I guess I want all of the cake, just in case, because it is like magic cake where you can put it in the freezer and take it out and it is basically still as good as it was when you put it in there in the first place.
    SP recently posted…Women’s Money Week: FeminismMy Profile

    • SP says:

      Replying to myself… Just had dinner with a friend who thought Obamacare was awful, and he was totally happy with his insurance. I pointed out it wasn’t to help him, he said that he had good insurance because he had a good job, and said: “I worked my ass of to get here, why can’t everyone else do the same?”

      REALLY? This guy’s dad is a silicon valley superstar who made a zillion dollars while his son was in late high school. He may not have grown up super rich, but he certainly didn’t have to “work his ass off” in any special way, typical upper middle class version of working his ass off (going to college in a reasonable major, getting good grades, and also being in a frat and having plenty of fun). In the same conversation, he casually mentioned how his dad could hook him up with a job here or in London. He’s looking, because he just got back from a 3 mo vacation/volunteer trip, during which his mom paid his car loan (for a $50k or so car) for him.

      Granted he 3 month trip was kind of an anomaly (and overall really good for him). He isn’t THAT spoiled & out of touch, but I was just really displeased at the level of gratitude he showed for his life.

      We didn’t discuss it much, beyond “maybe they had different opportunities and abilities than you did.”
      SP recently posted…Car and Commuting CostsMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      That is the most magic cake, I agree 🙂 And I do love my cake, but I think it’s easier for me to actively make the choice to give when I see that my small slice of cake given to someone becomes a whole cake of its own, in their view. That makes my raisin of a heart swell up a bit.

      That’s a bit of a breathtaking story about your friend, too; it’s amazing how blind we can be to our biases and privilege, isn’t it?

  3. Karen says:

    I try to give. I’ve gotten a bit sporadic lately so I need to get back to that (usually just a small monthly donation). I’ve responded to a couple of mailers…and I’m annoyed by the constant mail from them. I think I’ll stick to online donations…so I get email requests and not paper to toss (even when I donate, I still have paper to get rid of).

    • Revanche says:

      I’m specifically focusing on it now because I know I haven’t been good about it in the last few years. I do ask them to not mail anything to me b/c I hate that waste. I already know about them and don’t want any part of my donation wasted on mailing useless stuff.

  4. Abigail says:

    Ugh, I never give other than donating items to Goodwill. It’s embarassing, really. This reminds me that I promised myself I’d donate to Planned parenthood. I know we make enough that it’s kind of inexcusable that I don’t. I just feel like we’re constantly pummeled by bills. Plus we’re saving up for Tim’s dental implants which will be between $15k and $30k. And double pane windows. So I just never truly feel financially safe.

    • Revanche says:

      It’s definitely hard to extricate some portion of money to donate when you feel like you’re struggling so much to keep head above water. I only gave to family in earlier years when I couldn’t afford anything else, but I’m remembering all the causes that were important to me and mine back then, and slowly doing something about it now. Like I said, my allowance isn’t much. But we’ll build up to more. We’ll always be trying to save for something costly and out of reach (*cough* house *cough* all the costs associated with a house *cough*).

  5. […] “I don’t need to be (very) wealthy to make a difference,” Revanche writes in a post called “Poverty, water, animals: On charity and the why.” […]

  6. kara says:

    So to your friend’s comment, I’d append “yet”. He hasn’t gotten any help YET. Unless he is a multi millionaire who self-insures and never in his entire life suffers an injury or medical situation, he just hasn’t yet had to accept help. I won’t even get into the whole concept of the fact that the very roads he drives on and water he drinks are all part of other people helping him – whether thru charitable contribution or taxes or some combination.

  7. MARY says:

    I don’t have a lot of extra money to contribute at the end of the month but I contribute with my time. Does your friend have kids, do they go to public or even private school, then I bet his kids and he are taking advantage of the PTO and all other volunteers that word at his school. That’s what I do, I give my time at my kids school. I work my butt off putting on events so elementary kids can have good memories. It’s not a fancy school so money is tight but the work we parents put into setting up , cooking and tearing down an event takes weeks to organize..I bet your friend has no problem being a recipient of that.

    • Revanche says:

      He doesn’t but that’s still a very valid thought: I may not have kids yet but I am aware of and appreciate the efforts that teachers and parents make at their respective schools – it’s all part of the fabric of society!

  8. […] over at A Gai Shan Life posted an interesting piece a few days ago. It’s an excellent post — and not just because she manages to reference […]

  9. Kris says:

    I do feel it’s important to share, that we are our brothers’ keeper, that we should do unto others. That said, HOW DID I NOT KNOW YOU WERE SUCH A FILLION FAN? I know what we’re doing when we meet up at NerdHQ!

    And yes, I donated to Charity Water as well. They provide for sustainability, something I always check into when a charity goes around building wells – gotta make sure they can be maintained by local people. As soon as I saw that, I was in. More generally I could stand to give more to causes I believe in, but right now I give about 5% of income. Slowly building up. 🙂

    • Revanche says:

      I don’t EVEN KNOW, woman, I am obnoxious about livetweeting Firefly marathons! This is no secret! 🙂 Both Heifer International and Charity Water are good about sustainability, it’s not just about the immediate impact but about ongoing impact, which is so important. It would be nice to see how much of an impact these high profile campaigns make, though.

      • Kris says:

        Yeah, me too. But from a somewhat inside view, orgs really do count on them. And I’m equal opportunity Castle-Firefly – love both for different reasons. 😀

        • Revanche says:

          Yes, I just love Nathan Fillion in just about everything! It’s good to know that the orgs can make good use of the high profile campaigns.

  10. I donate things to Goodwill and the like but rarely donate money.

    For one thing, I decidedly do not have an entire cake. While I’m not exactly broke, what I do have has to last me all the way through my dotage, which could go another 25 years. I’d rather be able to support myself than have to live on the dole in old age, which is what’s likely to happen if I start giving money to churches and charities.

    I’d rather donate in kind or in services, to the extent that I perform altruistic work. And, come to think of it, altruistic work is what I do: when you factor in grading and course prep, I earn less than minimum wage for work to which I bring a Ph.D. and many years of real-world and teaching experience. I have ceased calling it a job and instead describe it, in conversation and on the resume, as “community service.”
    Funny about Money recently posted…Creative Work: Good for Your Health?My Profile

    • Revanche says:

      Altruism comes in MANY forms and contributing to education is definitely one of them! Where would we be if no one was willing to take the low pay and long hours that came with teaching?

  11. […] a very nice rumination from Revanche at A Gai Shan Life on the subject of charity and generosity. As a tightwad and the daughter of a […]

  12. […] But money in the bank is how I sleep nights I’d otherwise spend sitting up working a few more hours of overtime, or trying to figure out how to cover this month’s bills. Money in the emergency fund is how I ward off a few more nightmares about how we’re going to survive. Money in the brokerage, and paying down the mortgage, is how we build our more secure future, brick by brick. Money is how I can help others: frees up time to volunteer, frees up resources for those who need it a little…. […]

  13. […] Poverty, Water, Animals: On Charity and the Why – A Gai Shan Life […]

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