The dictionary starts with good will toward or love of humanity, followed by act or feeling of generosity. For this definition, the thesaurus adds altruism. It sounds simple and feels friendly on the surface.
Without digging far, questions muddy the picture. For example, where does the person who collects receipts and claims tax deductions fall on the altruism meter? Doesn’t this tax-deduction pull money from the social kitty and place it where he wants it, thereby making his generosity a mute point? Doesn’t trading anonymous, open generosity for directed, self-serving donations breach the spirit of love?
Can true love of or good will toward humanity exist with conditions and prejudices? Phrases like beggars can’t be choosers, I’m afraid he’ll buy alcohol if I give him money, I know a woman who fakes her disability, and the government wastes money echo across our society to the point they have become cliché. Asking another to trade choice for a bare necessity is not an act of generosity, any more than disregarding the alcoholics illness or projecting one woman’s dishonesty onto millions in need are demonstrations of good will. Criticizing government programs for the red tape we demand to screen out the one-in-a-million leech on the system is unfair, especially at the social program level, where expense abuses pale in comparison to other government programs.
How about the people who refuse to look in the eyes of their benefactors? A payroll deduction to an umbrella organization with no emotional involvement or contact hardly qualifies as an act of good will or love of humanity if the donor wouldn’t be caught dead in the neighborhood of the intended recipients. Meeting people face-to-face is the only way to understand the true depth of their situations, and meeting them heart-to-heart is how to affect the human changes necessary to remedy circumstances or right wrongs.
The selective donors, those who don’t want their contribution going to anyone who isn’t like them, might be the hardest to understand. They give to the church, to private groups, to people they know share their exact beliefs, never wandering off the block to expand their circle of friends. They want to know their donations stay with people who deserve their money. They lock-in the praise and recognition they need from for making their donation, and indebtedness from and power over the recipients who must come groveling to them. Can this possibly be altruistic?
Money alone is not charity. The dollar amount of the donation is not the qualifier. A poor person who gives his last dollar and a smile gives more of himself than the affluent person who donates ten percent he never sees or misses, without making direct contact, because often understanding, love, and respect are as important to the recipient as the money.
I’ve often heard charity begins at home. Too often, it stays there. I believe it begins in the heart and won’t survive unless it leaves home often.
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Dictionary definitions of charity
Biblical definition of charity