Friday, February 03, 2006

Investments, not Charity

"I don't believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person and learns from the other. I have a lot to learn from other people."
Eduarso Galeano

I expect that there is a time and a place for acts of charity. Stories of Good Samaritans touch us deeply.

But, even these moving examples of human kindness may need to be "reframed" in our minds and our hearts if we are to be used in the creation of a new community.

What if the Good Samaritan of Jesus' tale looked at his acts of kindness in quite a different manner than we normally do or even consider doing?

Imagine for a moment that he regarded his actions as investments in his neighbor.

What if he was thinking not only of the beaten man's wounded body, but also about his abandoned family, his neglected business, his future and the impact of the remainder of his life on the good of the entire community and nation?

If you read the story, you will notice that Jesus does not commend the Samaritan for his charitable action. Rather, he holds him up as a model neighbor.

That image changes things a bit, doesn't it?

Do you consider kindness done toward the person next door to be charity?

Or, do you see it as the natural thing to do with and for someone who is important, not only to you, but also to many others?

Often in this space people decry the engagement of public institutions in providing collective solutions or remedies to pressing human, social problems.

Many people seem to resent the government "forcing" them to provide for the weak. Somehow freewill charity feels better to many of us. That way we can maintain control of our assets and of our decisions.

I suspect that we might adopt a completely different view if we could come to regard these provisions not as charity, but as investments in the lives of the persons who receive the benefit--investements every bit as important and even more so to the community as are infrastructure improvements, economic development or national defense.

Every dollar flowing to educate the children of a ghetto neighborhood in South Dallas benefits not only those low-income students, but also my children and my grandchildren.

Every dollar set aside to improve community health among the poor benefits business, schools, churches and even individuals who can afford health insurance today.

Every dollar directed to the development of high-quality, affordable housing is a dollar invested in the regional economy that serves everyone.

I could go on and on.

Why do we so readily concede that dollars directed to the benefit of the wealthy return a greater yield and assume more importance than funds invested at the bottom?

Why are these "bottom rung" expenditures considered charity, while those benefits that flow so easily toward the top are seen automatically as sound investments?

Our problem has to do with how we regard our neighbors.

Our challenge is to see that everyone is worth our investment.



Charles Senteio said...

Thanks for your thoughts on charity. I don’t like charity either, it doesn’t convey mutuality or reciprocity and more importantly it isn’t sustainable. Your entry reminds me of a quote from Lill Watson, an aboriginal activist.
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.”

Anonymous said...

I've always liked the idea of doing away with "charity balls" and calling them "justice balls" to make people think a little more.

Larry James said...

Thanks, Charles and Anonymous. . .I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

Charles, I have used that quote for years not really knowing its source. No surprise, I can count on you to keep me informed!

Anonymous, I love your idea!

Keep to the battle by faith!

Jeremy Gregg said...

I heard a good story one time:

There was a farmer who came to the city for his monthly trading. After a long ride, he was hot and thirsty, so he went to the town well for a drink. Leaning against the well was another man, dying of thirst.

The dying man could see the water at the bottom, but he did not have a bucket to lower down. The farmer tied his bucket to the rope, filled it with water, and raised it up.

"Here," said the farmer, "Have some of my water."

The dying man looked up at him and replied. "The water is not yours to give. But after you have quenched your thirst, I'd gladly take your bucket."