The world is a better place when people go outside their own personal needs, wants and desires and give to others. The Golden Rule; to whom much has been given, much is expected; pay it forward; Karma: call it what you will. It’s a beautiful thing when we give sacrificially to others.
By the time most of us hit college or young adulthood, we have a sense of the injustices in the world we wanted to fight against, causes for which we wanted to stand. Even selling Girl Scout Cookies and Boy Scout popcorn was a bid to support organizations that did good. There were all the booster club fund raisers and auction dinners along the way. There was little lack of “good causes” to support either with time, talents or treasures.
As our political and moral views solidified, some of these causes perhaps became more attractive or worthy of our support. I am thrilled to see anyone become passionate about a cause outside themselves, designed to help others or a good cause. Sadly, sometimes said causes tend to take on a political tinge.
Even for those who believe in the Biblical Tithe (giving 10% back to God/good causes), it can be downright confusing about exactly where to place your support. SJ is an excellent steward of our money, and very generous. In addition to our church pledges, we try to pick a few causes to which we focus annual contributions, and then there are all the others that just come along (SJ always has a pocket full of change and granola bars for people on the streets; that lovely instructor at the Y whose child was in the hospital? No hesitation to help). We also have been actively involved in contributions of time and talent, usually in support of causes our kids participated in, our church, or social and humane causes we feel drawn to: women’s shelters, food pantries, homeless, Habitat, etc.
More complicating is when your children, you nieces, nephews, grandchildren, children of good friends begin coming to you asking to contribute to their cause. There is so much out there, and a limited pool of money in our pockets. Then there always is the question of how much of what I’m contributing actually supports the end beneficiary? What are the long-term and lasting benefits? What about the overhead and administrative costs, such as your $1000 flight to Central America and your hotel (necessary components of your volunteer efforts in that clinic or well dig or vacation bible school)?
More and more, “contributions” are tricky. How much am I contributing to your enjoyable trip, or your political and social cause which differs dramatically from my beliefs?
One of my nieces had a rough start in life, but after hard work and valiant efforts to get her act together, by the age of 30 seems to finally be on a solid path for success and happiness. She completed her degree, she was employed, and was interested in furthering her education. Financially her life was still a mess. Still, she held the dream of home ownership. As the time neared for her to put a deposit on her first home, she was short of funds. My guess is that “savings” never was part of her budgeting process, but rather staying one step ahead of (most) bill collectors. Her lifestyle (as displayed on Face Book) included regular mani/pedis, smoking about a pack a day, multiple artistic tattoos, and two very large dogs who are her “babies.” Finding herself without the necessary funds for the down payment, she set up a “Go Fund Me.” I never heard the results of this, but I believe few considered her “cause for herself” part of their top 10 contributions list. Through determination and some help from family, she was able to buy her house. She continues to follow up on Facebook with the litany of homeowner (and dog owner) woes and expenses. She has a good heart and has been helpful to other family members in need with her time. In addition to the grand sent for her rehab expenses, I have sent her a few hundred here and there after recovery… but I pray that she can make the hard budgeting decisions to help her become financially self-supporting and keep her home–and not see herself as a charitable cause.
Our own children, and the children of friends and family, have had their share of fund raising. Girl Scout cookies never really concerned me as imposing, as people get something they like in return for their support. However there are those “Church Mission Trips,” which while noble, essentially turn out to be youth spring breaks in a third world country, doing crafts and singing songs for Jesus, perhaps using a shovel or laying a brick. As a Christian I can believe that God uses all this for good… however I’m not blind to the fact that most of the “good” is accruing in the hearts of the youth on these trips, helping them to have more open eyes to the poverty and needs in the world outside their latest iPhone, designer purses, and cool cars. Even in Adult Mission trips (of which I’ve been part), I’m always struck a little by the “missionary-tourism” phenomenon, and often do calculations in my head about how the dollars I put towards my time there might have been better used in other ways than funding my trip)
[As an aside, “Missionary-Tourism” is a big business these days: people feel good about traveling abroad to “volunteer,” but often the good done is negligible. I’ve been on far too many of these trips where some individuals sit in the shade observing the work being done, fanning themselves, sipping from their fancy water bottles, and complaining about the primitive conditions, rather than rolling up their sleeves and getting dirty and hot and inconvenienced].
As a family, we resisted going to friends asking for sponsorships or support, we remained self-funding. We didn’t think it right to ask for money for ourselves or our kids’ pursuits (as our kids have become adults, we leave it up to them where to solicit donations; however we find they avoid going to their parents’ friends, with whom they have limited personal contact). For my own Mission trips, I self-funded or offered services for donations. We knew the kids of our friends’ were also funding causes/trips/booster clubs. An undeniable element of youth and young adult “good causes” is the opportunity for a great personal experience, and perhaps a little fun. “Fun” seems to be a necessary “carrot” in the equation of the youth (and adult) voluntary experience, and on a limited basis we as parents we were willing to fund this portion of our own kids’ educational and fun experiences (not feeling it right to ask others to support this). Sell those GS cookies, and raise funds for a troop trip to the Caribbean (where in addition to volunteering at the local orphanage, you’ll also go to the beach and snorkeling). Raise funds for juvenile diabetes and be part of a fun dance party marathon. Bike for the cause, and enjoy it. All wonderful experiences. And of course, there’s the “academic capitalism meets volunteer work issue.” In a bid to encourage good works and voluntarism, academia also wants you to build your voluntarism record, and hey, on a brand new resume, it just looks good! How many “Volunteer Hours” sheets have I initialed for surly youth who begrudgingly volunteered at our event, because they “needed their hours?” There were just as many I was glad to sign off on, because the spirit of giving and voluntarism was obvious.
As my nieces and nephews (either those by blood, or otherwise– I have lots of “honorary” nieces and nephews) come into their majority, many have found their causes. Many truly have a heart to do good and to serve. I love this, am so proud of them, and I want to support and reward their spirit of voluntarism to the extent I can, financially and morally.
Yet here’s the rub. You are 20, 21, 22 years of age. Maybe you want to eat, run, dance, walk or bike for a great cause like cancer or literacy. God Bless you! You are also generally very passionate about what you believe, and you write about it on Facebook, Instagram, and in your blogs (and even if I’m not your friend, I can see these). You hold strong political beliefs, and perhaps in your zeal you become a little judgmental or insulting to those who don’t share your beliefs. You hold strong religious (or anti-religion), social and political beliefs, and challenge (or judge) those who differ, or seem to differ. You have a tendency (in your youth and inexperience) to over-generalize, over-react, speak quickly, lump people into groups based on how they believe or vote, and insult. You want to fight against childhood cancer (wonderful), but in your next post state that anyone against Planned Parenthood abortions or pro-choice is evil. And I totally forgive this, because I know this to be part of the growth experience, the struggle to state your beliefs in a factual, balanced and respectful way, without insulting or offending. I also know many of your beliefs will evolve as you grow in experiences and wisdom. I will always love you, and your spirit to do good.
Yet, you’ve left me with a conundrum. I was delighted to write a check to you in celebration of your graduation, or buy you a wedding or shower gift to celebrate that wonderful life event. I know maybe it wasn’t a lot, but I was proud of you, I love you, and wanted to congratulate your accomplishment. You could use that check any way you wanted, even for your charity of choice. There have been about 30 graduation checks over the past decade, 6 or 7 weddings, several wedding, baby showers and baby gifts, and more to come, easily $3,000; that is how many young people I truly care about. But now you’ve made up your mind about your beliefs, and sometimes you publicly and strongly state things or support things that do not line up with my beliefs (and of course, this is your right). You’ve not spoken with me in years, however you make a scourging blanket statement about people in my religion, political party or social world-view, and it’s a little personal (and something tells me you wouldn’t say these things in a conversation with me, you are that polite). If you feel so negatively about some of my associations, should I contribute to your (often well-meaning) causes? Christian thought would tell me to turn the other cheek at your insults, which I do. Yet, does that involve pulling out my checkbook because I forgive your insults?
I’m sure most of you would say “no, if you can’t support my beliefs, then I don’t want you to support me.” I just hope you understand that even though our beliefs differ, I still love you, care about you, and pray for/support your success and happiness.