The charity conundrum

There’s no “i” in charity! Oh, wait a minute…

I was talking to a friend of mine today and it got me thinking about charity in this country. She was working at an automobile auction wherein the proceeds were going to charity. One vehicle even fetched $270,000. And my first thought is, if you have that much money just burning a hole in your pocket for charity, why not just give it straight to the charity? Why go to a public affair and bid on cars and all this other crap? Can’t you just cut a check to the charity and stuff it in the mailbox and go back to whatever you were doing? When I stopped to think about this, there really was only one answer:

Some people want others to see them being charitable. It’s not enough to pat yourself on a back and bask in your own good feelings; some people need other people to think better of them, to have their good works validated by their peers. To me, making a public spectacle out of charity kind of defeats the point or the spirit of charity. Like those stupid celebrity golf tournaments, or celebrity Jeopardy! It’s more about the celebrity and their publicity; the charity is almost an afterthought. It’s more so that people can say, “Oh wow, look at how much Brad Pitt cares about the homeless” or whatever. I can presume that auctions like the one my friend staffed above have a similar component: not only do you get to show your community how wealthy you are (sure to impress, right?), but you get to prove to them that you’re a good person!

Now, I realize that this isn’t the case for everyone. There are plenty of people–celebrities alike–who are quiet, anonymous Samaritans. Which is how it should be. There’s an inherent humbleness involved in charity. Here’s how the dictionary defines charity:

1:  benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity
2:  a gift for public benevolent purposes
Nowhere in there does it say anything about making your generosity public. It’s the same reason why I think that claiming charity on your tax returns is kind of an unsavory thing to do: if you’re getting something back, then there’s no charity and generosity involved. It becomes a transaction, a mutual exchange. And charity, to me at least, is a one way street.
You aren’t being charitable or generous if you expect to get something back in return, whether that’s five minutes of televised PR, the adoration of your neighbors, or a tax deduction.

3 thoughts on “The charity conundrum

  1. Yeah, the annoying people that say, “Me! Me! Me! Look, I’m donating money to help people! Love me!” What about the other forms of charity, like helping a woman’s and her car get out of the snow? I dodged cars to rescue the lady from the snow-packed road to never recieve a thank you from anyone. In fact, nobody cared. They just drove by. I was happy about that. Some people are proud that they help. They should be. It’s rare these days.

    1. I totally agree. There should be a quiet dignity and integrity that drives charitable acts. And definitely, even small acts of kindness can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

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