The Conundrum of the CaringFor many people, hunger, homelessness, and poverty only exist between the last Thursday in November and the New Year. The rest of the time they wander around in George Bush autograph-model bubbles, pausing only briefly to shake their heads at the awful realities of the world. Spurred on by incessant bell ringers and the appeals for donations that flood their mailboxes, guilt claws at them to SHOW THE MONEY! and mostly, they do.
But, how much is enough?
By percentage, less affluent families donate more than wealthy ones. The causes they donate to also differ. Low-income donations tend to go to organizations providing the essentials of life - food, housing, and health care. Although affluent people also donate to these charities, they donate to other worthy organizations too - public television, arts organizations, colleges, etc.
For the most affluent, making donations is easier. If you have plenty of money, you can afford to worry less about giving away more, even if the amounts are staggering. For example, no one could argue that recent mega-donations from tycoons Bill Gates and Warren Buffett weren't exceptionally generous. In fact, the donations were so large the Gates Foundation can now take on challenges that even governments can't fully cope with.
For the affluent, the question centers less on the amount to give, but on the place to give it. The rich can create self-financing foundations to leverage their money so that the organizations get more "bang for their buck". However, Bill and Warren will quickly recoup the money they've given away, leaving them with as much as they had before. They won't miss any meals or worry about the mortgage because they've donated. They'll sleep soundly, secure in the fact that they've stepped up and made donations on a scale most people, even wealthy ones, can only imagine.
For the less affluent, the question is a bit thornier. You see those around you - often friends or relatives - who need help. You want to help them, but you don't want to sink yourself in the process. You have bills and responsibilities, just as they do. So, you think hard, you budget, and you decide what you can do without so that you can share what you have with others.
But after you've given, you won't be sleeping soundly in your McMansion and dreaming of the new arts center with your name above the door, you'll be worrying about why you couldn't give more. Your view of those with little is unobstructed and a much more vivid picture than someone far-removed from the block where you live.
Welcome to the Conundrum of the Caring. It's that place where there is no question of, "How much is enough". It's the place where you want to solve all the world's ills, but realize that no matter how much you give, it will never be enough. Not even someone like Mother Teresa, who gave away everything she ever owned and spent every minute of her adult life in the service of others could change that. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and a thousand others of their power and wealth couldn't heal all the world's ills. And sadly, neither can you. No matter how much you may want to.
If you find yourself in this place during the holiday season, remember this: Whatever you gave probably went to one person who got one problem solved. That will be one less problem that person needs to face as they right the ship of their life. Your donation was no small thing for either of you. It's true that Bill and Warren can help more people and change more lives, but giving isn't a race, it's a kind act - no more, no less and there's nothing wrong with celebrating that act instead of worrying about whether it's enough.
So on behalf of all those whom you've helped, thanks Bill, Warren, and all the nameless people who chipped in whatever they had. Your acts are generous despite how convenient or inconvenient they may have been for you.
And you people who only face the world's ills at Christmas and float in your bubble the rest of the year - get on the stick and chip in a little on Memorial Day or Arbor Day, or any random Tuesday. Just give what you can, when you can, in the amount you can.
But don't worry about whether it's enough. Trust me on this. It is.
Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Sunday, December 17, 2006