In America, we have a problem with the word “charity“. Somewhere along the way we lost sight of what the word meant. We got it into our heads giving was the same thing as having something taken, that because there was no immediate physical return on a charitable action, those who ask for our charity must always be worthy of our disdain.
But that’s not so.
I’m a little upset right now. I posted what was probably in retrospect a poorly worded post on the American Pilgrims’ FB group that I usually love, and received some pretty thoughtless (and somewhat cruel) responses. I asked if any of the other pilgrims (it’s a large group, about 9k people) had started a fundraiser to raise money for their trip, and if they had any advice. The comments I got ranged from “earn your own money” to “this post is disgusting”. Mind you, because I knew it was not the forum to which to post a fundraiser, I did not post my GoFundMe page or ask anyone for anything other than advice. Eventually, I took the post down since no one commented anything positive or helpful, and every post was someone being offended that anyone would ask for help.
So it got me thinking: here’s this group of people who for the most part identify as American Christians, and the mere mention of someone needing help was somehow personally offensive to them. Why (how) could that be? Some might try to blame religion, but one of the prime tenets of the Church is that being charitable pays off. You know, the loaves and the fishes? Or even easier, St. Francis’ Peace Prayer, which says “for it is in giving that we receive” – something that I try to live by, because for the most part I’ve found that when I give to others with no expectations, I am always shown a new kindness or some turn of luck, even if it’s just feeling good about being able to be nice. You could also call this karma, or point to the Law of Return. Bottom line is that it’s laid out very plainly in our universe that it is good to be good to others.
But Americans overwhelmingly don’t believe that. Look at our banks. Look at our politics. Look at the frenzy people get into when you ask for advice on setting up a successful GoFundMe page and they assume that you’re a deadbeat who’s somehow gaming the system and keeping THEM from some (as yet unexplained) hard-earned reward.
Let’s look at what it feels like to be a person who’s asking for something, anything: I need help. I swallowed my pride and am asking for it. It doesn’t make me a bad person. It makes me a person who needs help and is now embarrassed and vulnerable. And that gives YOU all the power. What do people do with that power? They lord it over those at the bottom. They choose not only to not be charitable in deed, but also to avoid charity in manner. They make the person who needs help feel like scum for even asking. Then they go home and feel good about themselves when they should just feel ashamed.
It’s fine to not be able to afford to help the guy you see begging on the street corner. It’s fine to suspect that the girl bumming change off of people at the traffic light could very well be able to get a job if she’d just try. It’s fine to tell people “no”. We all do it every day. But it is NOT OK to be hateful under any circumstance, and that includes when you’re denying others your charity of action or thought.
We’re all guilty of it to some degree. We’ve all gotten tired of people begging us for change. Hell, I had a guy walk up behind me the other day while I was in line at the lunch counter, tap me on the shoulder to ask for money, then just wait there, staring at me, until I had change to give him. I was annoyed at his behavior, and I wasn’t very nice when I gave him the money. I told him “God bless you” even though I didn’t have it in my heart. I felt awful afterwards. But now I know better.
And I guess that’s all I’m writing this about. I removed that post on the wall of what was my favorite FB group, because the negative comments just kept going, and I realized there was no way to save it and I was just going to be crying all night if I didn’t put a stop to them. But I still have to wonder what it is about us that makes us so goddamned evil to each other for no reason? If I’m naive, then I hope I stay this way forever. I’d rather not have to come to the conclusion that even the people who say they’re trying (who shout it from the rooftops, in fact) aren’t really trying hard, at all.