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Charity needs you                                                                                     Print this essay

Posted at: May/05/2010 : Posted by: mel

Related Category: My philosophy,

I have been puzzling in my mind for months on how to write about charity. The subject is very important to me. My quandary has been my approach. While I don’t want to preach, I want you to understand why charity should be important to you and an integral part of your life. Should I talk about the moral value of charity, should I look at the importance of doing good things for others, there is also the historical aspect of how helping others have evolved? I really don’t know how this will unfold, but the importance of saying is eating at me to the point where I need to just jump in and see how my thoughts ultimately divulge themselves.

In today’s materialistic society, charity is often seen as something we just don’t have the time or energy to give any priority to. The truth is that the community we live in has a huge influence on us personally. From our community we find safety, responsibility, some portion of our identity and even sustainability. It is logical that we take our community seriously for the greater good of humanity and for our own personal benefit.

So how does charity fit into this model of our community? I am not aware of any community anywhere or at anytime that has not had some element of its society in need of help. Utopia is a great idea, but the reality is that we are not there. Whether as a result of natural disaster, downsizing, or simply being left behind as change cuts its swath; we will most likely always have those who have less than is needed to get by and need our help.

So why do charitable work? For some of us it is about following the example of public personalities. There are many high-profiled people who are great believers in charity. Bill Gates donates millions of dollars to charities, Bob Geldoff and U2’s Bono are great crusaders against world poverty, and Oprah Whinfrey builds schools in impoverished area, and many other celebrities offer money and their time to a variety of causes.

Yes, I know. These people have the lots of money and can afford to give. We all know that there are also tax benefits for the wealthy that make their donations personally beneficial while also helping their public image. But we should not look to wealth as a divining factor to giving or not giving. Just because someone can afford to give more than you doesn’t mean you should not also give.

Don’t worry, I am not a socialist, but it is my honest belief that we should all help those less fortunate than ourselves. The reasons for this could fill another essay so I won't go there right now, but accept the notion that helping those in need helps your entire community. Despite how modest your life may be, it is very likely that you would not have to go far to find people who are less fortunate than you. More important is that virtually anyone who does not need assistance is capable in one way or another of helping their fellow man. Whether this help is financial through donations or through contributing your time as a volunteer, it really does not matter, but we should all feel some social responsibility to do something. That’s right you don’t have to be rich and famous to contribute to the community. Everyone can do something. If you don’t have the time, DONATE. If you can’t afford to donate money, donate things you no long need that can help others like blanks. If you have the time you can offer your time or services as a volunteer.

Spiritually, many people will tell you that this good for you and those kind deeds also give you an inner satisfaction. Making you feel good is not in my view a good enough reason to help others. Though I am sure that motivates many, it should be good enough that your good acts help others to feel better. There is a lot I could try and say here, but others have come before me and said it much better so I shall share their teachings.

I am going to share the teaching of one scholar named Moses ben Maimon. Moses ben Maimon [known to English speaking audiences as Maimonides and Hebrew speaking as Rambam] (1138–1204) was the greatest Jewish philosopher of the medieval period and is still widely read today regardless of faith. He believed and taught that there are 8 degrees of charity. These deal primarily with providing for the poor. Here are his 8 levels, from the lowest to the highest. Do you agree with this assessment? How high are you on the list?

1.) This is the person who gives to the poor unwillingly.
2.) This is the person who gives to the poor happily but inadequately.
3.) This is the person who gives to the poor only after being asked.
4.) A great level, this is when one gives to the poor person directly into his hand and gives before being asked.
5.) The next level higher is giving to the poor without knowledge of the recipient but allowing the recipient to know your identity. In this level the poor would not be ashamed.
6.) The next level higher is giving to the poor with knowledge of the recipient but without allowing the recipient to know your identity. This is like giving to the anonymous fund. In this way the giver knows who they gave to, ensuring the gift is not lost, but the recipient does not know his benefactor.
7.) A higher level of charity still is to give to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from who he received. This is often considered performing a mitzvah (blessing) solely for the sake of Heaven. This is the "anonymous fund" where the giver donates in secrecy and the poor benefit with their pride intact through privacy.
8.) The highest level is to support your fellow man by gifting with funds, or a loan, or a partnership, or finding them employment. This is the method where you teach or elevate someone and strengthen them until they no longer need to be dependent upon others.

So I ask again, where did you find yourself on the list? Do you agree with this list? Has this list inspired you to consider changing your personal standards for charity?

I like referencing Maimonides, his eight level of charity look at not merely the type and method of giving, but the motives of the giver. For some folks this could be a case of asking a question they would prefer not to answer. I was first exposed to the teaching of Maimonides as an idealist 14 year old and I know his thoughts have inspired my personal actions as well as my view of others.

There is another important notion to look at here and this is who should be responsible for the poor. Before government programs such as unemployment insurance and welfare, the role of helping the needy fell to family, extended family and the community church or religious center. I don’t wish to diminish the role of government safety net programs, but there is a lot we can all do as individuals. Sounds like we are back to where we started.

I could tell you about the inner satisfaction that you get helping struggling people, buts lets avoid the harp strings. Giving things you no longer need or use, donating money or volunteering your time is not hard. What is hard is to take the first step and do this for the first time. Have you volunteered to help at a community shelter? Are you donating time to a community sports program? All of these are easier than you think.

Choosing to donate some of your time and energy to a cause or activity in your community is easier than you think. Realistically, being a community volunteer is more about creating a habit. I am trying hard not to preach, but this is so easy to do. Many folks I have spoken to respond with “but which group should I help?” To me the best place to start is very close at home. If you have kids in school, there is no doubt that the school needs your volunteer support. You could be a classroom aid for a few hours each month. You could be helping the school with administrative activities. If you ask you will find the list is long and there are ways ready made to help that fit your time and skills. Closer to home, is there an elderly person in your neighborhood needing some assistance? A little light housekeeping once a week, help with the trip to the grocery store or doctor? Doing these things is very satisfying and can form wonderful and lasting relationships.

There is also for parents a wonderful teaching aspect to all this. If your children grow up seeing their parents doing volunteerism, or participating as a family in community service, the example and habit is created for their own future. This could be the beginning of an important and beautiful social trend.

I know I have focused on donating your time and energy, but making financial donations is also very important, and for many very busy people the only way they can realistically help others.

I am sure you have heard the phrase, “Charity starts at home” – so first and foremost make sure your budget can afford it!

Here are a few additional tips to keep in mind when choosing a charity and making donations:
1.) Pick a cause that you believe in the most – all charities are worthwhile, but which ones are YOU passionate about?
2.) Payment terms – do they have a ‘subscription’ donation system where you’re set up to make regular donations? Do they have a minimum donation acceptable? Do they accept all payment options? Do they provide a written receipt (they should!)? And of course, is this all acceptable to your finances.
3.) Can you claim donations for this particular charity as a Tax Deduction? What are the particular tax laws in your state?
4.) What does the charity do with the money – are you concerned that too much of the money is spent on administration fees and staff costs?
5.) Of the charities you’ve investigated, which one gives the biggest ‘Bang for your buck’?

So I have talked a lot, but have I said anything? I hope I have shown that there are many ways to help those in your community who are less fortunate than you. Whether helping the neighbor down the street, donating money or used household goods, helping at a shelter, or volunteering your time at community activities…there is something that fit you, your schedule, and your skills, you just have to do it.

In the biblical story of “Cain and Abel”, Cain answers God that he is "not his brother’s keeper”. One of the most important lessons we are all taught from this story is that Cain was wrong; we must all accept responsibility for the welfare of our fellows. Find a way that fits you and step up to this responsibility and you are making the world a better place.

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Nido Qubein
Wherever you are, whatever your circumstances may be, whatever misfortune you may have suffered, the music of your life has not gone. It's inside you... if you listen to it, you can play it.
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