Some of you read the story about the new pastor of a large church with 10,000 members, who dressed like a homeless guy or a bum and wondered around the church entrance prior to the service. He greeted people through his false scruffy beard, but only three people said hello to him and no one gave him a penny when he asked for change for food. When the service began, the ushers sat him in the back row.
The congregation was shocked when he was introduced as the new head pastor of this huge church. His sermon was simply a quote from the Bible that ended with the statement by Jesus that “whatever you did for one of the least of these . . . you did for me.” With that last sentence, the new minister said nothing else and closed the brief service. You can imagine the guilt and self-examination that went home with the church members.
Many phonies make an excellent living by pretending to be homeless and hungry and may even become aggressive if taken up on the offer to “work for food.” Some even resent being given food, because they only accept cash in unmarked bills. That’s unfortunate, since there are many others who are actually in need.
Any gift given to someone should be given authentically. Many people give to charity or personally give to others with the wrong motives. Public recognition nullifies true altruism, as does a “gift” when something is expected in return, like a political consideration.
Anonymous givers are examples of people who are not looking for credit or affirmation of their generosity. Of course, if the purpose is a tax write-off that’s a different story. But giving anonymously without selfish motives is true “giving.” If it gives you secret pleasure, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
If you give an item to someone when that item means little to you or maybe was on the way to the dump, is that an authentic gift? I once gave my buddy,
John Chaffin, a
bottle of wine that someone had given me. I’m not a big wine drinker. The problem was that I didn’t notice the note
to me written on the label by the folks who had given me the wine. Chaffin is
still laughing about that “gift” forty years later. He won’t let me forget it.
I think a gift is only a gift if it is something that you value and something that has meaning to you. When giving it, you are giving a part of yourself to someone. I failed that test big time with my ignoble “re-gifting” of a nice wine for the Chaffin family.
There are a lot of ways to give authentically. If you see a hungry man warming his hands on a cup of coffee in a fast food place, but no food, you might buy an extra hamburger and drop it on his table as you leave without waiting for a “thank you.” Or you might provide financial help to someone, even a few bucks, without the person knowing where it came from – that can be authentic altruism.
Is giving always about money or tangible items donated or given away? How about “time?” Time is the only non-renewable resource we have. When you spend time with someone - a grandchild, a sick friend or a healthy friend, or time spent helping a stranger - is that less generous than dropping a few bucks on someone knowing you can always replace the money? Time is all we have and our time on this planet is limited, so what could be a more valuable gift than giving your time to someone?
It’s a good exercise in character-building to approach the concept of giving to others without the recipient knowing or the anticipation of a “thank you.” And, as I said, a gift is not always money.
Based on my understanding of psychology, I’m not sure that pure altruism is possible. Even if you help someone anonymously, you feel good about it. So it’s not totally unselfish, but that’s about as close as we can get.
Just a thought . . .