Paul Andersen: Fair Game
December 16, 2012
Tis the season for giving. At least that’s the message that jams our mailbox. End-of-year solicitations reach an all-time high as every nonprofit known to man reaches out to touch us with a gimme.
Most of the messages in our mailbox represent good causes, so it’s with regret that we decline to write each of them the big check. Maybe one day that can happen, but not with a mortgage, a kid in college and a stagnant economy. Not this year.
Since most Americans are not desperate for write-offs this year, the glossy brochures, solicitous pamphlets and gilded letters are filed into trash cans that bulge at every post office in the land. Mountains of paper trash are dumped into landfills, the end of the line for unfulfilled giving.
Rather than feeling guilt for not giving, it is important to remember that there are other means of philanthropy than writing checks and making pledges. The philanthropy of spirit can provide endless opportunities for expressing one’s largesse.
Philosopher W. MacNeile Dixon explained that Plato conceived three types of philanthropy: “1. a courteous, cheerful, hearty disposition; 2. acts of kindness; 3. being good and pleasant companions.” Apparently, writing checks was not popular in ancient Athens.
Instead of equating giving with handing out cash, the spiritual philanthropist shines beneficently on fellow man, showering grace and love like confetti at the Macy’s Parade. This non-material manner of giving is perhaps more difficult than writing checks because it calls on one to be truly attentive to others and giving of oneself – and it need not be relegated only to the holidays.
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The spiritual philanthropist gives year-round through the best of social skills and generosity of behavior. Giving begins with a smile, a friendly salutation, a sincere inquiry into another’s health and happiness, and a caring word or two. Spiritual philanthropy is spelled out in the Golden Rule, the deepest foundation of most major religions and the pure expression of humanism.
These pleasantries, if widely exercised, might work to alleviate some of the cash needs of charitable organizations by empowering people to help one another in sympathy, compassion, friendship and brotherhood.
Certainly the suffering of wars and other violent conflicts could be largely alleviated with a dose of spiritual philanthropy where the giver and the receiver benefit mutually in the cultivation of closeness and commonality.
In “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge undergoes a dramatic spiritual conversion after spectral visitations reveal his hollow legacy of greed and avarice. No one loves a selfish person, Dickens said, and only giving can produce the reflective glow we all seek from our common clay.
So don’t despair if you can’t write a check to your favorite charity this month or even this year. If financial realities have interrupted that kind of giving, consider a shift to spiritual philanthropy, an invitation to the deepest giving a person can do.
Smile on your fellow man. Say “hello in there” to the elderly. Hug our veterans, and tell them you care. Be kind to animals and to the earth. Share with others. Address a homeless person, if only to dispel their invisibility with a kind word. Be a peacemaker. Tear down walls rather than building them. Be good to your spouse, your children, those who depend on you, who trust you, who will return your good will as it’s given.
The coming holiday season demands a lot, and it’s usually focused on material things. Consider how a warm affect can be worth more than a dozen gifts under the tree, that the shining light of kindness might offer more festive brightness than festoons of Christmas decorations.
If the philanthropy of spirit can provide a gift to both giver and receiver, it can become contagious. As Scrooge discovered, the spirit of giving lights up the future with brilliant possibilities of a warm and embracing world.
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