Why should we give our money to other people or to a charity? We live in a world largely based on selfishness and greed. The theory behind capitalism is that if we all look after our own interests then we will all prosper. Is there a future for altruism based on compassion and justice?
But a system based on selfishness simply does not work. The poor stay poor. Those who are less able, physically or mentally, get ignored and fall by the wayside. In practice, society has to intervene in some way. The community, church, government or the charitable sector has to care for those left behind in the mad scramble to obtain wealth.
We have all been sickened by hearing of the super-rich avoiding tax and therefore stealing from ordinary people who have no choice in paying tax on their income. We hear of politicians fiddling their expenses. We hear of financial systems that almost brought the world to its knees through recklessly lending money to people who cannot possibly repay (sub-prime mortgages). We hear of bankers, who we have bailed out through our taxes, enjoying bonuses whilst manipulating the interest rates of mortgages and savings.
If there was no altruism, restraints or government intervention, then greed would ultimately result in the wealth of the whole world being in the hands of just one person. In a world system based on selfishness, there has to be some restraints enforced by the rule of law.
But there is hope. People do care and are often prepared to give sacrificially to help people in need. This compassion and sense of justice produces altruism which is the opposite of selfishness and greed. Individuals care through their communities. In times past, and still in some parts of the world, it is only community care which has stopped people going to the wall.
How do we give?
Giving to those who are in need can happen in a number of ways:
- Individuals giving to individuals. This is the most personal form of giving. It is a win-win situation. The receiver benefits and the giver feels happy and fulfilled by making the gift.
- The extended family. Traditionally, particularly in Africa, when a child becomes orphaned there has always been someone, a grandmother, an auntie or a remote relative to look after their child. It is only recently, with the devastating effects of AIDS that orphanages have become common-place in Africa.
- Communities looking after its members. Tribal communities around the world have looked after the weak, the disabled, the widow and the orphan. But as the world becomes city-orientated, communities weaken and are less able to help.
- Faith Communities. When the tsunami struck Sri Lanka in 2004, I was particularly impressed by the responses of the churches in Sri Lanka to the needs. Before aid came in from outside, the churches were doing their best, with their own limited resources, to care for the homeless and the wounded. When the Kosovans were ejected from their country and fled into Albania, the churches were at the forefront, providing food, clothes and shelter for the refugees before aid flooded in from the international community.
- Governments. Governments in the more prosperous countries provide some sort of welfare state where, in theory, nobody should live in abject poverty or starve. In the UK, the government provides healthcare for all, free education to secondary level, state pension for elderly people, income for the unemployed, disability allowances, and a care system for orphans and abused children. But in the end this help still comes from individuals paying their taxes to the government.
- Charities working at home. In the past, many of the services provided by the government, would have been provided by churches and other charitable organisations. But there is still a great need for charities to fill in the gaps left by government and to meet the needs of those who slip through the net.
- International Charities. In many countries governments do not have the resources, or the willingness, to provide for people’s needs. It is often up to charities working through sustainable development to give people living in extreme poverty hope for the future and a helping hand out of the cycle of poverty in which they are trapped.
Whether we help directly, via the community, through charities or by paying taxes it is still a case of people giving to people.
When I started working for a charity, I remember going to a seminar and learnt that, “people give to people“. When people give to a charity, they are really giving to individuals. For practical purposes, they may not be able to give directly to those people, but they trust the charity to pass use the gift on their behalf.
- To give to a charity involved in sustainable development overseas, go to karuna Action. “Building on the foundations that have been put in place over many years and moving into a new exciting future!”
- To give to a UK charity working amongst young people go to the source. “We want to see young people realising their potential. Working, loving, living, families complete, empowered, relationships formed, confident, free, comfortable, developed, challenged, inspired, enthused, encouraged… It’s just life!”