The Shift of Intention
Written by: Randy Evans
The holiday season is fast approaching and opportunities for charity abound. I ask, if you do something charitable, why are you doing it? When speaking about charity, intention is rarely mentioned or given much thought. Is it to feel good? Is it Christmas? Check a box on your list? Get a tax break? Because the Bible says to? So many times we gloss over our intentions, for the question most would ask is, “Why does it matter who benefits from my donation?” I would like to take a closer look at why intention is instrumental when we talk about authentic giving and charity.
What does it mean to give a gift to someone? The dictionary defines a gift as “something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance; something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned.” What really struck me about this definition is the gift is given unconditionally and the recipient has done nothing to warrant it. However, many times the “gifts” we provide have strings attached or require the recipient to prove they are worthy of the help. For many, there is a sense of self-satisfaction with charitable giving. We may receive accolades, like this is some amazing act which is so outside of the human norm; or we gain from it, such as a tax write-off or get a gift in return for making the donation. Our thought process is, “Yes, it is helping me, but I’m also helping someone in need,” so it becomes a “win-win” situation for all involved. In this sense, when we are giving to get, it is to our benefit. This makes helping someone simply a perk – an easy way to feel good about ourselves while moving the responsibility for individuals in need from us to them. Is it a gift if you are the beneficiary of the giving and the sacrifice made was minimal to none?
The real question at this point is not what charity ARE you doing, but IS what you are doing charity? If the need we are fulfilling is a basic life essential, such as food, shelter, or rudimentary healthcare, is that really a gift? Do you consider every meal you eat, the place you live, and the care you get when you are sick a gift or a given? Shouldn’t a gift be above and beyond the basics? Many articles around the holidays say day-to-day essentials and clothing are not good gift ideas. Yet, we feel like individuals in poverty should be grateful when these items are provided through our charitable acts. Do you say, “Thank you, I am so grateful for this gift!” when you put on a clean pair of underwear or socks? Do you think, “I am so blessed to have this!” every time you eat a snack, drink water, or sit down to a meal? I know it is difficult for those of us who have never experienced days without food or a place to sleep to wrap our minds around these concepts. It is foreign to think of these things from this perspective when you’ve never shared the actual experience. This is why it is so important to be in community with individuals in need. Building the relationship provides us the ability to see things differently and to feel accountable for the person, not just the need. When we live in community with one another, we share the burdens and help others with resources we have available regardless of the benefit we get from it. It removes the barriers and assumptions and replaces them with a sense of belonging and purpose. We no longer do things because we feel good or to fulfill some personal goal. It becomes simply the right thing to do.
I know I’m being philosophical about charitable giving, but I truly believe we need to check the motivations behind what we do. Individuals experiencing poverty are no different than us, except for their circumstances. They are not less than human because life dealt them a bad hand or undeserving of help because they may have put all their chips in when it wasn’t a safe bet. We’ve all made mistakes and bad life decisions at some point. However, many of us had a community to support us during that time; we depended on others who helped to provide for us when we could not provide for ourselves. By creating the spirit of connection and coming together as a community, we can learn from each other and help each other in all seasons of life.
Here at Walking Tall Wilmington, we strive to help anyone who asks. Why? Because building community, forming relationships, and taking care of people is our top priority. It is not done for the accolades, notoriety, or self-satisfaction. Instead, it is just an automatic response because we care for the person and want to assure their basic needs are met. With the holiday season upon us, instead of mindlessly giving to an unknown entity or a nameless/faceless person “in need,” I invite you take the time to get to know someone experiencing poverty. Listen to their story and try to see life from their point of view. And when you give – be it time, money, or resources – give with an open heart, without expectations, self-satisfaction, or the warm fuzzy feeling of, “I did a good deed.” After all, true charity and authentic giving, is not about you. It is about them.