Giving to Charity is a Myth

Hands giving charity
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Image by: Tim Marshall on Unsplash

A dictionary definition:  Charity

  1. an organization set up to provide help and raise money for those in need.
  2. the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.

I address only the second part of the definition.

10 000 years BB   – – – Before Bible

Long before the Bible became a thing, Homo Sapiens lived in small communities. They knew that survival depended on sharing. This meant giving what one had to others in the group. Especially the young, the old, and the helpless. This was not only “charity” before the concept had been created, but essential to survival.

Then came the Bible and formalized the idea by referring to tithing in the first book. I refer here to the Judeo and Christian Bibles which is all that was taught during apartheid Christian dominance. I have insufficient knowledge of this aspect of other religions and writings in religious books, although giving and being kind seems to be central to most religions. Some people periodically give a little to their church and proclaim proudly that they tithe. To be accurate, a tithe is one-tenth of your income. Although originally it stems from the biblical injunction that one-tenth of the first crop, not money, belongs to the Lord. If you do tithe – give one-tenth of your income – bully for you, but don’t tell me. If you give, but less than 10%, then Bully for you as well, but don’t tell me. Don’t tell anyone. Do not fear. Your God will know.

Why do we perform charitable acts?

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Image by: British Library on Unsplash

Do we give money to charities because a book says that we should, or do we do so for altruistic reasons? Do we help animal shelters because we love animals and feel deeply distressed when they are neglected and abandoned? Do we assist in orphanages because we feel sorry for abandoned children? I believe that this is what you most likely genuinely believe. But, I believe that you deceive yourself. You don’t do it for them. You do it for yourself.

The super wealthy

I chose one example because it is current and topical and he is the richest man in the world. Jeff Bezos was roundly castigated for spending a lot of money to travel into space while there were millions of people starving. When he got back he donated multiple millions to charity organizations.

Charity donations good
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Image by: Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Why? To deflect detractors? To appease his critics? To demonstrate that he was charitable, generous, and kind? Not only these things. He will, by virtue of his donations, attract more criticism because “he did it only because we put pressure on him” and then add that “So what. It’s nothing for him. It’s like a drop in the ocean”. Ultimately his actions stem from a combination of many things, but mainly because in appeasing his detractors he feels an element of success or victory, and in “helping the less fortunate” he feels good about himself. He must glean a degree of satisfaction from his actions. He will continue to enjoy that satisfaction as he sees the organizations to which he gave some money, thrive and continue their good work. I am surmising. I don’t know Jeff Bezos but use this as an example because it is, in essence, all of us.

Foundations and Trusts are set up to do good. Yes – but also to perpetuate the memory of individuals and families. To be recognized. To have exposure in the news. While they live and before they die, the founders know that they have left a legacy. And they feel good. People recognize their generosity and admire them. It can be considered a selfish act and not purely altruistic.

Is there a benefit to telling the world . . . ?

There can be an advantage in the ultra-wealthy telling the world what they do. It creates a little healthy competition for the other ultra-wealthy to do the same – and then some. There are hundreds of such Foundations in South Africa alone. Millions around the world, I would guess. When one politician or public figure starts a Foundation then many of the others do the same so that they are not “left behind”. They want to be recognized. Immortalised. And even that will attract criticism.  Not only that “they can do more” but often nonsense and stupidity of the highest order. The current example is the accusation that Bill Gates has a microchip in every COVID vaccine and that we are all now being tracked.

The ordinary human

I have no doubt that everyone who does it – that is, gives to charity – does so for good reason. Probably many good reasons. But central to the act is the basic principle that when you do good, you feel good. It is a self-rewarding action. Others will benefit. Many lives will be saved. Animals benefit. The earth benefits.  Do we give to charities simply because we feel sorry for the recipients? Or that we feel a little guilty if we don’t? Or that society at large expects us to? Probably all of these, but primarily because we feel good. Not only when we have done it. We feel energizing excitement in the planning, We experience fulfilling joy in the doing. We feel growing satisfaction in the accomplishment. These are all good feelings and emotions. And they are all ours to own. It is personal. We are admired by our friends and loved by our children for being so kind, generous, and charitable. We are proud that we set a good example for our children. Ultimately, giving to charity is a selfish act.

For added thinking and discussion have a look at this BBC article “An ethics guide. Arguments against charity”

It’s a secret – Keep it that way

Donating money or goods or time to charity is selfish, but it is also good. Don’t tell me what you do for charity. Don’t tell the world what you do. Just do it. Don’t stop.

As important is that if you don’t give to charity or do some work for charities, I urge you to start doing so. Without delay.

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Image by: Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash

I hope that these writings have provoked your thinking. If you give to charities and do good work for charities, I urge you to do more. Much more. Give, as they say, till it hurts.

If you do not, I urge you to start NOW. You will feel better because of it. You will feel great!

Revel in that feeling, but don’t tell anyone.

Disclaimer: Check my website here. I write what I write. These musings don’t necessarily reflect the thoughts of the Safrea Chronicle, nor SAFREA nor any of the members. Freelancers are often the most generous givers to charities.

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4 Responses

    1. Thanks, Carla. Isn’t that what we want? Provoke thought. Of course, it can also attract criticism and even attack. One day I would like to share your thoughts on this.

  1. Very interesting piece, Peter. There is something in the Bible about not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing (or it may be the other way around). Of course it is also central to Buddhism and other traditions. The Muslim community in South Africa are huge givers. Bragging and self-promotion are part of our individualist culture. It comes in everywhere, not just into charitable giving. Purely alturistic motives are hard to find. The only example I can think of is the Gift of the Givers guy, Imtiaz Sooliman, who just acts and his work speaks for him and his organisation. He says he follows spiritual teachings. The New Age Teacher, Byron Katie once said somthing like: You put out your hand to stroke your child’s head and it is all for you.

    1. Thank you for the memory jog, Melody. I had forgotten about the moral injunction of the right hand being ignorant of the left hand’s actions. I like Byron Kate. She stumbled into her philosophy quite late in life. I love that analogy of stroking a child’s head. It’s true, certainly in my experience. I love interacting with children, of all ages. I enjoy helping them find their solutions, develop self-confidence, enhance their self-esteem, all the while knowing that I will feel internal satisfaction and my self-esteem is enhanced. It does seem selfish – but it is ultimately good for everyone. Now, as I try to dodge the Grim Reaper, I realise that those “children” can be anyone below the age of 50. This is to me, hilarious.

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