Time To Get Personal: On Charity

This is a weird one to write for me, because usually even when I do these ones, it’s about me and my relationship to something. This is about that but it’s about something bigger. But last night as my brother and I almost got into a fight over a comment I made (this one was seriously on me. And I rarely take the credit when my brother and I fight.) I decided I should talk about this more.

I come from an exceptional family.

One where the values of our religion were taken above the dogma, although the dogma, not excluded.

One where, I actually once heard one of the more wealthy members say, “when you want to give away billions of dollars, you have to make billions of dollars.”

One where my conservative Catholic grandfather has spent 3 days a week of his well earned retirement  caring for the dying in an AIDS shelter.

I’ve lived a privileged life. But I was also taught that with privilege came an obligation to improve that world at large.

To put it in nerd terms, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

I don’t exactly have great power, but compared to most of the world, I have a good thing going. I will not ever go to bed hungry. I am incredibly well educated. I live at home rent free in an incredibly safe suburb.

To quote my new hero, Kelly Sue DeConnick, “I’m not playing the game on the easiest setting, but I’m not far down the ladder, you know?” She was talking about feminism and equality, which feature into what I’m talking about.

I want to talk about charity, about giving, about globalization.

A few years ago a friend of mine called me out for using the word, “charity,” as if it were an implicit good. She stated that charity as a value was condescending, and I cannot disagree with this more.

I really believe that if charity were taken more seriously, particularly in American society, we would all be better off. I run a charity, I’ve done it for five years, and the first time I felt challenged for it, a few months ago, I nearly lost my head. I was, luckily, at the time, too tired to actually lose it.

So last night, when I mentioned that it felt off that the media was talking about the American victims of Ebola and not the 10,000 in Africa who had already died, my brother pointed out that, immediacy causes a reaction. And also, that the doctor who has just been diagnosed in New York contracted the virus while working with patients in Africa who had/have Ebola. Of course, my psyche does not allow for my brother to have a point while he’s in my presence, so I had to fight him about it. (It’s one of the main reasons that we really shouldn’t live together. Like at all.)

But I was raised to think globally and act locally. It’s why cultural feminism always spoke to me, why conservatism always spoke to me. If you let people, give people the resources to take care of themselves, of their neighbors, they will. I believe that, somewhere in me, I believe that.

But them I look at the world. I look at Ferguson, Missouri, I look at the images of the NYPD, men and women I idolized as heroes my whole life, beating people, I look at a woman as harmless and unradical as Felicia Day, who always played the game by the fanboy’s rules, if only because the rules worked for her (I have no doubt that the minute they didn’t she would step up, and she did) getting harassed by Gamer Gaters, and I worry.

But then I remember that the minute I called my best friend and asked her to give away money we could have been pocketing to help the people of Haiti rebuild their country, she said yes without a thought. I remember that my grandfather’s cousin, who is an honored member of a deeply ingrained hierarchy and could have shut himself away years ago, is spending his 80’s pleading for the freedom of Christians in the Middle East and China. I think of other friends who spent precious social and career building years help the less fortunate through the Jesuit Volunteer Corp.

I was raised to believe that you have to give. Not to get, although what you do get is immeasurable. I was raised to believe that when you have more than you need, you have to give back. The world doesn’t work otherwise. The world will never work otherwise.

Give what you can. Catholicism has a thing that other people should adopt too. It’s called Stewardship. You are a steward of your time, talent and treasure, and you owe those things to God, if that’s what you believe, or to the world, if that makes it easier. I have time and talent, not much treasure. So I give those things back. I produce a musical and give it’s proceeds to people who need it more than I every year. That’s what I can give.

My grandpa, who I cannot speak enough of, spends his days working with AIDS patients. Just because it was something he could do.

I proud to come from this legacy. Really, really proud.


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