Should we give of our surplus goods (so that I or mine experience no harm in doing so), or should we give until it hurts us (because I suffered some sense of personal or family deprival in doing so)? Behind these questions of course is GIVING. Do we give, should we give?
Americans have acquired a reputation over a long period of time of being givers. Tipping is one instance of it, and is usually identified as an American trait. Tipping was not a practice common in Europe or Asia during the war years, for understandable reasons. As a result, merchants and service people always liked it when Americans entered their establishments. Eventually, unfortunately, this sense of hopefulness at having an American exploring one’s store or store front in search of merchandise gave way to another kind of profile of us as the ugly American: one demanding that he or she be treated deferentially and respectfully precisely because we were Americans to whom others owed a lot for all that we had done for them. And we often became critics of what they had to offer us.
Is giving something unique to Americans, but seldom associated with others? When we give, is there an implicit hook attached to the action, designed to gain for ourselves the admiration of others and preferential treatment from them as beneficiaries of our beneficence? If so, would this not be like an investment or payback that we hope proves beneficial for ourselves? Or are there some things money cannot buy?
Nonetheless, likely most of us do tip (for a service received), or, just as frequently, given out of our surplus in recognition of something good and beneficial associated with doing so. And this is praiseworthy, and not to be belittled. But it may sometimes be associated with the attitude, “easy come, easy go”, with the emphasis on “easy”. And it need not always involve money. It may entail clothing, furniture, tools, machinery, or even a service of some kind or other. Even the practice of picking up hitchhikers, now generally discontinued, was often an instance of offering a service to others. But It usually comes down to giving away what we no longer need or want or value. Likely these examples probably describe what does not put us at any disadvantage, or hamper our plans. But they are all commendable practices, and likely serve to bond people together, who otherwise may have remained strangers to one another. And even though we may experience no sense of loss or deprivation as a result of our doing them, it can mean very much to the person who is the beneficiary of our largesse.
However, when it comes to giving to another, to the point where it hurts us in some form or fashion, then that’s when the rubber hits the tarmac, as we say. We don’t like imposing hurtful things on our lifestyle, or on our plans, or on our sense of well-being. And, especially, if we are married and have a family, we don’t want to impose hurtful things on them, such as downsizing our family vacation plans to help a relative or neighbor in need. In such cases we extend whatever inconvenience is involved, on those who are near and dear to us.
Nor do we like being generous to another when it involves a request from him or her, for help, in the form of money. If we don’t know the person, and if we have an unfavorable impression of them, we may wonder about their integrity in this transaction, as well as the prudence of doing so when there is doubt about the truthfulness of what they are telling us about their need. If it is a matter of spare change, we may somewhat cavalierly pass on to them what we do not need, despite our doubts. It may possibly prove helpful to another. And we may nurture an attitude of indifference in how he or she is going to use the money I give them.
And others of us may have no sense of urgency to respond to any of these opportunities to respond in these situations, reasoning that they are already over-taxed by various levels of governmental agencies, seeking revenue for various programs some of which I dislike and do not wish to support. As a result, I may consistently refuse to financially support any appeal for help.
Giving can be a complicated affair. It can involve the wrong attitude, the wrong kind of issue, or the wrong person making the request. And it raises the perennial question good people periodically put to God: why does He seem to bless or at least tolerate those who are obviously not good persons? Why do the wicked prosper, receiving good things like health, reputation, honor, esteem, recognition, praise?
This age-old question has been asked over and over again. The answer lies in the recognition that God knows that the good will ultimately prevail. He enjoys an advantage in that regard. The disaster that His Son underwent on Good Friday and that threw the apostles into a quivering mass of hide-aways hoping to escape discovery was followed by Easter Sunday, and this was not happenstance. God, if no one else, knew that the resurrection was near at hand, to rectify what seemed like the triumph of evil. That was the advantage God enjoyed in allowing His Son to suffer a travesty of justice. That is an advantage we obviously do not enjoy. But it throws light on all the potential mishaps to which we are liable as we work our way through the maze of options we encounter in trying to help the good prevail amid the deceptions and mistakes affecting our efforts at doing the right thing for the right persons or causes. A silver lining can always appear around the malingering dark cloud.
We are a community of laymen and laywomen who, with vowed Passionists, seek to share in the charism of St. Paul of the Cross through prayer, ongoing spiritual formation, and proclamation of the message of Christ Crucified.