Charity Begins Next Door

An essential part of living an Old Money life is giving a portion of what you earn to charity. Ten percent to the church, synagogue, or mosque of one’s choice is a good start, but it’s just a start.

That might seem like a cavalier statement to make as most of the country is still licking its economic wounds and wheezing its way out of a recession. Nevertheless, giving to others less fortunate is needed now more than ever.

But many people look at their checking account at the end of the month and logically put a donation to their church or favorite charitable organization on the back burner.

At this point, we must think differently. First, we must see just how wealthy we really are. We have our health; we have our family and friends; we have a roof over our heads; we rarely, if ever, go to bed hungry; we live in a relatively safe, stable country where most politicians and citizens keep it between the lines most of the time in terms of behavior. And if we need help, most of us have people we can call, people we can count on. If we compare ourselves to the Real Housewives of Where The Hell Ever, we might see ourselves as poor. If we compare ourselves to people living on less than a dollar a day–which much of the world does–we are indeed quite blessed.

With that world view now in place, let’s get personal.  It’s great that we give to national charities that address disease, poverty, natural disasters, and the like. They do great work on a grand scale. But there are people within a 10 mile radius of you that are struggling. Without insulting them or diminishing their dignity, find a way to help them. The fifty bucks that you had earmarked for a dinner with your spouse could buy a child shoes for the school year. Cook a meal for a family that’s going through a rough patch. Ask your pastor or priest, or a local policeman. They know who’s in trouble. Consider the best way to help, do it anonymously, and do it as often as you can.

Finally, stop seeing generosity in solely monetary terms. When you take time to sit down and talk with someone–and listen to them–that’s being generous. When you visit someone in the hospital, that’s being generous. If you pay a neighborhood kid to mow someone else’s lawn, that’s being generous.

Whatever we do, we cannot assume that someone else will contribute. It’s on us. It’s a daily, local challenge: make a difference, because we have no idea what others are going through.

A friend of mine, who is a teacher, had a high school student in class who began to do poorly and act out. He spoke with her in private and asked her how she was doing. She lashed out in anger, saying that it didn’t matter if she made good grades or came to class or behaved badly. Who cared, anyway? Careful not to react, my friend patiently explained that he thought she had tremendous value as a person, that she had a lot to contribute, and that he cared about her very much, and, in his role as her teacher, he loved her.

Her eyes filled with tears and her lip quivered. After a moment of silence, she said, “Nobody’s ever told me that before.” This was a child from a middle class, two-parent home. And nobody had ever told they cared about her, or that her life was worthwhile, or that she was loved.

We have no idea what others are going through, even those we think we know well. We must know that we always have enough, enough to take care of ourselves, enough to be charitable to others.

In times like these, we need to be that rich. We need to be that Old Money.


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