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May, 2010

On Giving

by Larry

What is the correct place of giving in our lives? I think each person can answer for himself or herself. No coerced contributions are truly giving, it seems to me, and so if our "giving" is based on edicts from on high, pressure from our peers, guilt, trying to please a spouse, parent, or boss, or on hope for a reward either in this world or in an idealized afterlife, we may have missed the mark. Also, the place in our lives of giving may change as we proceed through the various transitional phases of existence.

In popular culture, we hear various exhortations to be liberal in our giving, for example: "Give till it hurts;" "Give without ceasing;" "Give, and do not count the cost;" "You can never repay the debt you owe ...(fill in the blank, for instance your parents, teachers, etc.);" or "Service equals serenity."

We are also encouraged as we are growing up to give not just with specific kinds of helping activities but also with extra time and money. The net effect of such guidance may be to put others' needs ahead of our own, with charitable service options of all sorts and/or with donations of multiple types, covering a host of deserving causes and needy people.

I believe some of these have merit, while others are suspect or might, depending on the circumstances or the people, actually be inappropriate or exaggerated.

Our personal resources, even Bill and Melinda Gates' or Warren Buffett's, are after all limited. And guilt may not be the best determinant of their wisest use.

Nor can we necessarily look to the model of others for how to do our own giving. I had a grandfather who in many ways was a good man and who urged his church congregations to be liberal in their giving, yet who budgeted his family expenses severely and would allow his wife only a nickel to put in the offering plate each Sunday.

If we give in a co-dependent way, martyring ourselves for the sake of "enough" giving, we may have volunteer burnout while running ourselves ragged and losing that rather valuable quality, peace of mind.

I do not yet have my own ideas about giving well formed or polished. However, it does seem a few aspects of giving can be pointed to as better than others. These may not be applicable to anybody else. They just help me frame my own thoughts on the topic.

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