I spent Boxing Day cleaning out closets, sorting through items to be given to charity. With all the new toys my kids received for Christmas, and given that they share a room and closet, it’s a vital necessity to enforce a “you get one, you give one” policy.
Each time I give stuff to charity, I feel relieved—and disturbed.
I give away things that I don’t want anymore: impulse buys, unflattering clothes, childish toys. Often, it’s a little marked up or scratched; no one will mistake it for new. But someone else will buy it for a low price and that sale will help others in need. Clean closet for me; money for a charitable organization; dirt cheap merchandise for bargain hunters. So far, so good.
But why does giving to charity always mean giving my leftovers, the stuff that I declare is unworthy to hang in my closet or sit on my shelves?
And how does it feel to be the person shopping at a non-profit thrift store, not because you adore a good bargain, but because that’s the only place you can afford? How does it feel to be on the receiving end of charity, knowing that you’re supposed to find your treasure in other people’s trash?
If you’ve ever been the odd person out, you know how being “charity” feels. You stand to the side, watching everyone else, feeling totally out of place with these strangers who all seem to be intimate friends. Then someone saunters over and starts a really awkward conversation designed to make you feel welcome. Only it doesn’t.
Typically, their motivation is more duty than actual interest in you as a person. They pity you for not fitting in, and because they’re decent people, they want to make you feel comfortable. Unfortunately, their plan is so obvious that it has the opposite effect: you feel uncomfortable. That’s treating someone else as charity.
Pity is cheaper than love.
Pitying others means that I get to feel superior. I hold the upper hand: the keys to acceptance in a group, the material wealth that they need to survive, things to make them more acceptable as people. And I can give these things and walk away, feeling good about myself, and go back to my real friends, clean closets, and newly purchased items. It’s a seller’s market, with people being treated as commodities to be bought and sold.
Loving them means that I believe they’re worthwhile as people—worth just as much as me. Not less. I’ll want to give them my attention. I’ll want to give them more than just discarded toys or outgrown clothes or a few extra dollars. I’ll want to give them the best because they are important to me. I’ll want to give, even if it means giving up something that I really want, even if no one else ever knows.
This is both harder and easier. Hard, because we’re used to thinking in terms of money and commodities and love is unquantifiable. Easier, because we’re freed from thinking that if we’re materially poor, we have nothing to give. All of us can give love and give in love.
What would happen if we all gave our best to others? What would happen if we gave—attention, gifts, money—out of love, not pity or duty? How can you do this?