Posts Tagged ‘charity’


An old expression, probably very politically incorrect, but brought back to mind by an e-letter I got from www.delanceyplace.com just today. *  (see EXCERPT  below)

Indian giving, when I was a child, meant that you gave something to someone and then took it back.

“Indian giver” you would label the person who took a gift back from you.  It was not an epithet against native Americans in the way we used it, at least not consciously.  But a trip to Google asking for the origin of that expression gives any number of opinions on the phrase.  Here’s wikipedia’s take: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_giver

Without expecting retaliation, I want to say that probably all the opinions in Google have basis in reality, the Wikipedia summary, speaking of a cultural barter system being the basis, seems to me fair, correct, and very pertinent to the bit from delancey place today.  I would like to add that it is my belief that the built-in “owing” that our current western USA type culture includes in “gift giving” is a corrupt system, and I love that the Eskimos have it right.  I have spent a lot of time wondering why people measure  how much is owed them by others to whom they have given.  (“After all I’ve done for him…” , etc.)

Justice seems to be built into humans.  Very young children feel they have been abused by life when someone gets something and they do not.  It is not very long before the little baby in the high chair is weeping and reaching out for whatever a sibling is being served at the table.  Altruism is not a built-in virtue.  Survival requires a peck-order and the ones who don’t push to the front, in the chicken house, may actually die for lack of a turn.  We are partly blessed with that survivor instinct.

“It isn’t fair!”  I have heard plenty of adults saying this about their perceived bad luck.  And they are measuring.  They are measuring what others are getting that they are not getting equally.  I have heard adults say about their own wealth or good fortune that it isn’t fair that everyone doesn’t share in the same way.  But what can be done?  They give to charitable causes, and make generosity a big matter in their social interactions.  (and get a tax break.)  The recipients are grateful. (and embarrassed to take charity.)   Something about this is not healthy.

We are told in The Book (I use the Bible as mine) that we should give without expectation of return. And we are told we should pay our taxes.  (this is the way we share with others less fortunate, ideally.)  But we deduct from our taxes when we share this way.  If we don’t report it as a deduction, we are getting closer to the Book’s instruction.  But we do give ourselves a nice pat on the back.  “It makes me feel good,” we say.

I really like how the Eskimo in the quoted story below handles his gift giving protocol.  It’s not sentimental, smarmy, or self-aggrandizing.  It’s just transactional. It’s what we do here, he explains.

Something like picking up a fly-away paper littering the park. You just bend over, pick it up, and put it in the trash, right?  (or not.)  Either way, it’s just a transaction, done just because that’s what’s done.  Not because you think the hero-hunters are video-ing your virtuous gesture, or because you can claim it proudly to your neighbor.  You don’t even have a tantrum when you walk that way the next day and find another piece of paper littering the park.

When did we lose the simplicity of this kind of behavior and mind-set?  Why do the Eskimos still do it this way?  I want to do it this way and I get all sorts of flak from people who think it isn’t fair to me!  Then I start to worry that it isn’t fair to them because they then think they must worry about it being fair to me!  So muddled and confusing…

What to conclude?  I have not yet figured it out.  I just know how I think it should be, and will tend to not keep accounts of favors incoming or outgoing other than to love the people in my life who are dear to me.  Just because I think this way doesn’t mean THEY have to agree.  That’s a free gift—they have choice.  So do I.

Old Swimmer .. Susan

* EXCERPT:  In today’s excerpt – the supposedly virtuous act of giving is often instead an act meant to create an obligation, an act whereby the giver measures himself against the receiver and requires a repayment, even if that repayment is gratitude:

“[Here] are the words of an actual hunter-gatherer – an Inuit from Greenland made famous in the Danish writer Peter Freuchen’s Book of the Es­kimo. Freuchen tells how one day, after coming home hungry from an unsuccessful walrus-hunting expedition, he found one of the successful hunters dropping off several hundred pounds of meat [for him]. He thanked him profusely. The man objected indignantly:

” ‘Up in our country we are human!’ said the hunter. ‘And since we are human we help each other. We don’t like to hear anybody say thanks for that. What I get today you may get tomorrow. Up here we say that by gifts one makes slaves and by whips one makes dogs.’

“The last line is something of an anthropological classic, and simi­lar state- ments about the refusal to calculate credits and debits can be found through the anthropological literature on egalitarian hunt­ing societies. Rather than seeing himself as human because he could make economic calculations, the hunter insisted that being truly hu­man meant refusing to make such calculations, refusing to measure or remember who had given what to whom, for the precise reason that doing so would inevitably create a world where we began ‘comparing power with power, measuring, calculating’ and reducing each other to slaves or dogs through debt.”

Author: David Graeber
Title: Debt: The First 5,000 Years
Publisher: Melville House


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Some things never change.

Seems to me that last year on December 8th, I was worried a great deal about the hunger and cold in Vineland, NJ.  I saw a lot of people huddled and unhappy in the streets, and the weather was, like the Old King Wenceslas carol put it, cruel.

This year the faces I see are in another town in another corner of the US, and some of them are just as sad and cold and needy here as they were (and likely are) in Vineland NJ.  The Salvation Army guy is out ringing his bell and duly wishing givers and non-givers alike a similarly Merry Christmas.  He was cold when I saw him first on Monday.  But he was caring about how he did his ringing, and wishing. 

I told him on Monday that I’d “get him next time.”  “Merry Christmas” he said.   And on Wednesday I “got him” and he wished me Merry Christmas again.  Going in, and going back out of the store, there he was. A young fellow.  He did his job with an aura of serious cheer, if there is such a thing.

This is the time of year I inevitably remember my cute little dark-haired English neighbor who, in yet another town, another decade, knocked on the door and brightly announced that she was collecting for the March of Dimes.  I was really and truly broke (and depressed about it)– really scratching for money as a “displaced homemaker”.  “Cathy, I wish I had something to give, but I just don’t have any money.”  

And she said something that occurs to me every time I am confronted with an opportunity to donate to a worthy cause.  She said,  “It’s the March of Dimes. Have you got a dime?”

I did, of course, on the ledge of the kitchen window.  Cathy taught me that day that if everyone actually gave a dime to the March of Dimes, a whole heck of a lot of money would be given.  Whatever the population of the U.S. is times ten cents is a heck of a lot of money.

We can do this.  I can do it.  I have a stack of loose change that collects when I empty pockets before doing laundry.  I’ve got a thin wallet, but certainly more than a dime this year.

I say do it!  A dime.  A quarter.  All those pennies.  The wadded up dollar you stuffed in the cubbyhole next to the handle of the car door.  Go ahead.  It’ll make your heart feel warm on this very cold day in December.

I’m going to write a card to my wise friend Cathy when I finish this blog.  I happen to know that little English Cathy worked as a very small child at a mill near Blackpool  and had to give all her paycheck to her Granny.  This was in England in a desperately poor country place where there was a peat fire to warm the little row house she lived in.  Granny used to give her a penny back and she would savor the treat she would get from the candy store.  Cathy knew what a dime could bring.  This is not a fairy tale.  This is a real story. And Cathy is a white haired old lady this 8th of December, God bless her.

old swimmer

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Hey Buddy– Got a Buck?  (a related page about the Toys for Tots Bin)

Well it’s that season again — the one that happens right after Thanksgiving and begins with Black Friday, you know?   When we watch the little kids in shopping carts crying and whining and getting reprimanded by their parents who are shopping shopping shopping for toys for the miserable little child who just needs some serenity and a bottle and his own bed.

Do we have time to read blogs, never mind write them, at this season? I think we need to re-assess all this frenetic, joyless, “have-to-ism” during the holiday season.

One of the best decisions our family ever made was at one Christmas gathering where we all sat around before opening the stack of gifts and looked at the stuff sitting by the tree.

It filled up a quarter of the livingroom! It was all lovingly wrapped. One gift from each person to each other person. Oh, and several gifts to each child from each person. And extra gifts to certain others who were surrogate family. And the neighbors. And to whomever might stop by and might expect a little something.too-many-gifts-copy

We were all tired! We were all broke and worried about it.  And sort of embarrassed by the muchness of stuff we were about to tear into.  And we said so to each other! (That was the beginning of lucidity.)

Then, after the stuff was opened and adored and sorted into each person’s pile, we talked. We said how much we liked getting nice things, but that we liked even better just being together around the tree.

We decided that Christmas that NEXT year we would do it differently. ONLY CHILDREN get presents from everyone. And the grownups (you know, those broke individuals with credit card bills that would stretch maybe even until next year before paid?) would come to the party with only ONE gift for a grownup. It had to be under, say $20.00 and could be something that was suitable for anyone over 18. It should be wrapped, and surreptitiously placed in a pile of anonymous parcels. This pile would be “auctioned off” by drawing names– everyone having put three slips with their name on it in a basket. You could “take” someone else’s selection if you wanted, or you could take a gift from the pile. When all the names were used up, that was your gift. (you could swap later if you wanted.)

This turned out to be so much fun! The gifts had to be cheap, so they often were very funny. The little kids were jealous, the adults were having so much fun. They could hardly wait to grow up enough to play this new game.

We still do this. It means we can go to the toy store, or order toys on line for the kids. Then we can find one thing for the drawing. We can cook nice food. We can put our babies in for normal naps, and stay away from the sniffling, weeping, cranky- sounding stores with people coughing and snarling and looking like death.

We arrive at our party feeling…well, happy! We go away feeling good, and also smart. We have licked this oxymoron “Merry Christmas”.

Plus, we have time to read and write blogs!

Writing instead of shopping,

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