What does the word “charity” mean to you?
Do you simply switch off when there is yet another call for donations to a charity?
No matter wherever you are in the world, there will always be something or someone whom you can support and help if you wished to make it a better world all around. One can support umpteen causes, most of which are worthy and deserving, whereas some can be rather frivolous and obscure.
Where does one begin with supporting a cause or a charity, and just as importantly, where does one stop?
There is only so much of you to give and only so many resources you can share.
At what point does your goodwill end, and compassion fatigue set in?
I have always been fascinated with what makes people tick and what makes them do what they do. There are a variety of things that drive people but a key one is this deep desire and longing to make a difference and contribute to others.
Ultimately we all want to help and make a difference, it’s a question of just how we choose to do so. Sometimes we are simply held back from helping others through lack of knowledge or even fear of stepping up.
A few months ago, I wrote what I believe to be one of my best posts – indeed in my humble opinion my “opus magnum” article – Feel the Fear and Change the World Anyway. This article is my clarion call to everyone to change the world in their own way. If you only ever read one of my other articles, please make sure you read this one:-)
What is your definition of charity?
Wikipedia offers a number of definitions but generally being charitable refers to providing help or relief to the poor and needy. On a broader scale it is about benevolence or generosity toward others and toward humanity.
The word “charity” is also commonly used to describe an organization that facilitates charity benefiting people in need. It also refers to the act of giving your money, time or resources to others without expecting a reciprocation or a direct return. Of course you go get the satisfaction and fulfilment of having helped someone.
Ultimately, charity is benevolence, or an act based upon a belief in the goodness and worth of other people.
There is literally someone you can help in every street, and sometimes in every nook and cranny.
Yesterday morning I was in a very upmarket part of London for a client meeting and I saw a young woman sleeping in an alleyway. She seemed completely oblivious to the world passing her by.
Though the sight of homeless people in London has sadly become more common in recent years, I always wonder how such a person reached such a point in their life. I hesitate to say “low point” as I now understand that apparently some people choose this way of living. However for the majority, their life has taken such a turn that they now literally have to fend for themselves in the streets.
I still feel a heavy tug at my heart strings whenever I see homeless people in London. I always wonder how this could even happen in our so called modern and privileged society today.
Why are we not doing a lot more to help?
Conversely in some developing countries it is quite a common sight to see homeless people living in the streets, so common that we even switch off after a while from noticing human beings lying in gutters. I definitely felt like this ealier this year when I visited India.
At the same time, it’s always heartening to see how even homeless people strive to help themselves out of their situation, despite all their challenges.
Here in London, I always chat to a homeless person selling The Big Issue – it really doesn’t take much to take some time out of your routine and just have a normal conversation.
There is this famous story of Mother Teresa holding and hugging a dying man in Calcutta rescued from a gutter. The man was not bitter, but happy and grateful that he was going to die with some dignity and love.
At least for the last few moments in his life, this man felt wanted and loved. And how amazing it is to be able to give such a gift.
Give up on wanting to change the world big time
Yesterday morning when I met up with a friend, she mentioned how she had given up on the notion of always wanting to change the world big time. She was finally comfortable that she didn’t have to go and feed starving babies in Africa, so as to feel that she was making a difference!
My friend’s comment resulted in this blog post – it’s always amazing where inspiration can come from.
So get this once and for all – it really is okay not to want to abandon your daily life and go and help starving babies say in Africa or take on some other grand project in the world.
Band aid in the mid eighties probably started this myth that the only way to help out in the world is to go and devote your life rescuing starving babies. Even now so many people seem to want to go to Africa or India and help children.
Funnily enough, I too used to talk about doing this and luckily 10 years ago I was able to do just that when I visited Nirvana School – do check out the video below or at this link – you are so beautiful.
Charity begins at home
There is this well known saying that charity begins at home – this really means that you should try to help your family and friends before you help other people.
Charity certainly begins at home – and it is key to understand and accept this. Once you accept that charity begins at home, you can then consciously look for opportunities in and around your home and not wait for one future day to pack your bags for Africa, or indeed anywhere else where a worthy charitable cause appeals to you.
Of course, charity at home is much more than giving donations and giving your unwanted clutter to others.
There is so much more we can all do for all the people around us – my friend John Sherry recently summed this up beautifully in his article about how to contribute to the world from the heart and not just the pocket.
So yes, contribute to the world from the heart and not just the pocket – and begin in your own backyard. Change the world around you first and one day you can take on the rest of the world.
Even more importantly, remember that “charity” begins with you. Look after yourself first and then the people around you and ultimately the world.
So be selfish to help the world.
I am not advocating being selfish and ignoring others at all costs, but saying that you look after your own needs first – after all, if you can’t look after yourself, how will you look after anyone else?
Enjoy being charitable
At the same time enjoy all the abundance around you, both natural and material – it’s there to be enjoyed to the full and shared as appropriate and as much as possible.
I don’t belong to the school of thought that one should deprive themselves of material things, and suffer in sympathy with those suffering and who have less material goodness than you.
“No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he only had good intentions. He had money as well”. – Margaret Thatcher
Of course, don’t go too far the other way in terms of chasing and gathering materials and building up your clutter – keep your life simple.
To end, no matter where and how you are drawn to carry out an act of charity, always remember these famous words from St Francis of Assisi:-
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy
Picture courtesy of NYCUrbanScape and jswieringa
So beautifully said, Arvind. I’ve always believed too that by keeping ourselves strong, happy, and healthy we will ultimately have more power and energy to help others and will do so from a higher place within ourselves. There are so many opportunities for us to help others – perhaps with just a warm smile – each and every day, right where we are.
Thanks Jean, it’s so true that one of the greatest gift we can give the world is to be the best we can be.
And yes, if nothing else, just a smile would brighten up someone’s day.
Thank you for pointing us in the many directions in which we can contribute.
I agree that we always have opportunities and they are varied. Money is one way and I agree we need to attend to ourselves and our loved ones. I do that with my mother and it brings me great happiness.
Also, though, it’s not just money. Treating the disenfranchised with dignity and respect means so much to a person. We never know when kindness may be what it takes for someone to make it through another day. Your story about Mother Theresa and the dying man is so poignant and beautiful.
I like to keep my “radar detector” open in seeing how I can give in my daily life. I like that more than giving to countless charities (that can be good too but there are so many other ways to contribute).
Giving includes being there for friends and strangers when we sense a need is present. And I find that when I give I receive so much in return. I am so grateful for all the love that comes my way and I bask in that love.
Thank you Arvind.
Lauren, you have summarised my own philosophy beautifully:-)
One thing I didn’t say in my article is that you get so much back in return for giving to others – and that’s where the real joy is. You do things without expecting anything and yet you get so much back.
So really there are so many opportunies around us to not only give to others but ultimately receive back much more.
You are so right, charity begins at home within ourselves. Sometimes until we become so busy with our lives that we forget there are so many can use our help. Many times I feel so overwhelm and depressed as I feel what I am doing is so little and how can I reach and change whole world.
Thank you for reminding to look beyond our comfort zone.
I wanted you to know that I finally took you advice and I have revealed my real name 🙂 You and zenguy both have requested it but it took sometime. I am finally out with my name and family pictures all. Thank you for suggestions, see my new gravatar!
Dear ZenGirl aka Preeti!
Welcome to my blog with your id for the first time. And great Gravatar image.
Firstly great that you have now found your voice and decided to reveal your true identity – the world needed to know the real you:-)
Now go forth and change the world in your own authentic way.
Thank you. I think you were right, world and myself needed to show real me not only in writing but also in name. 🙂
I am still working on changing myself first before I am qualified to change anyone. A work in progress indeed.
Preeti, great to see you even migrate your signup name from ZenGirl to Preeti in your two comments above:-)
And from the moment everyone is born, they are a work in progress!
I am not a big fan of the word charity because of its association with poverty and need. I like your approach of care for self first then loved ones and moving on from there. This is where and when the world starts to change–one act of kindness at a time.
The timeless words of St. Francis Assisi say it all: love, forgiveness, hope light and joy are within all of us. We can give such priceless gifts and contribute positively to the world at our doorstep.
Thanks for the reminder Arvind!
Manal, I like how you summarised this post as one kindness at a time. It’s a great philosophy to adopt in life – and best to start with yourself first.
I too have never been comfortable with the word “charity” due to its connotations with poverty and need. Even in my article above I have interchanged the word charity in a few places with “cause”.
“Cause” is more powerful word as it implies we are at cause and can make a diference.
I do agree that charity begins at home with ourselves first, then friends family and community. If we are happy and healthy – we are more capable of helping others. The empty cup has nothing to give. We need to be filled up first if we are going to be able to help others.
When I commuted to NYC there were always people in the subways asking for money and it made me so sad. I always put some spare change in their cups. Spare change was not going to change these people’s lives much, I know. The reason I did it was to (hopefully) impress upon them that the world could be a good place and supportive if they chose to become a part of it again.
Hi Arvind, so many truths in your beautiful words today. I do agree that as human beings we have a natural desire to help one another and that when we die “hopefully”, the world will be a better and lighter place for us having lived. This is borne out by the likes of Warren Buffet ,recently collaborating with Bill Gates in a new joint venture “The Giving Pledge” whereby some of the worlds richest people will hopefully leave considerable portions of their wealth (99% in Buffets case, to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) to charity.
For my own part, as I wait for my bus in the morning, I am conscious of extreme wealth. Conversely upon my return in the evening from the inner city I see extreme poverty. I feel as if I am transcending two worlds. The homeless here in Dublin are many. Each with their personal story. Few are there by choice.
Mother Theresa gave love to that dying man. She also gave him recognition and respect, the feeling that he mattered. I agree that charity starts with self, extending outwards to family ,friends and to those that cross our path.
My own personal mission is to smile, reach out, give dignity and respect and then “do what I can” to pull that person up. It starts with a smile and an extended hand. The rest follows, “I hope”.
Another sparkling, heartfelt post Arvind. I really love your observation about how the homeless look to help themeselves. So you are very wise to suggest we help ouselves first too but also to carry on that help to others in our community. Changing the world starts from the very streets where we live, our backyards, our community or ‘common-unity’. Charity can be put another way – giving freely with the heart. Everybody will blossom from that.
I appreciate your kind mention of my guest post which was a pleasure to write for such a great blog, supportive friend and caring human being such as you. Blessings as all ways.
I definitely agree that charity begins at home. It is really important to focus on people and causes in our backyard. With the increasing earth changes we have seen in the last few years (tsunamis in Indonesia and earthquakes in Haiti), I do believe we need to pull together globally as well to support each other.
You mentioned Band Aid and to me that was a defining moment in history. I am a huge fan of Bob Geldof and was inspired by Band Aid and the effect it had worldwide to bring attention to famine relief. His form of raising awareness has been copied many times since (Farm Aid, Al Gore’s Live Earth, etc.)
Hello Arvind, What a lovely post. I agree we need to look after ourselves first. And I think sometimes dedicating something more precious than money can help more than anything – time.
And the small things on a daily basis are what will change the world over time, a smile or kind word can turn around someones day.
I love that those children look so happy!
Hi Arvind. Thank you very much for this blog post and the others I have received recently.
If you’re not familiar with the hymn, Make Me A Channel of Your Peace, then I highly recommend it because the music is just beautiful and the lyrics are based on the words from St Francis of Assisi that you put at the bottom of your blog. A quick google search will find you many renditions of it.
The version from Aled Jones is one of my favourites:
Arvind, This post has so many lovely twists and turns. I appreciate so much your concern for others, at the same time we need to care for ourselves to have the strength to extend our generosity. Balance is also key as you point out. Having too much can create troubles as well as having too little. It’s important to find our right balance. Thank you.
Charity begins in our heart and when you gave something that you look back for a return its non-charitable act but a profitable one.
Fitness girl – spot on.
“Charitable giving” with an expectation is not charitable giving!