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2010-02 Charity

a column written for the Sligo Weekender

 
What we are trying to do may be just a drop in the ocean, but the ocean would be less because of that missing drop (Mother Teresa).
Every drop creates a ripple ; every ripple a wave...

Yet again, in the wake of one of the worlds worst ever humanitarian disasters, people have rallied around, pledging their assistance. Haiti undoubtedly grabbed the worlds attention. In an almost uncanny way these cataclysmic tragedies bring the world together in compassion.
The word charity derives from the Latin caritas (meaning preciousness or dearness), and has links to the Greek word agape, meaning unlimited loving kindness to others. Charity of course is one of the virtues, which has been recognised and embraced by religions throughout our history, as followers were instructed to offer alms and to help others to help themselves.

In every recognised religion,  charity is cushioned by words such as love, kindness, benevolence, generosity and spontaneous goodness, as compassionate people bring fulfillment and lasting happiness to those less fortunate.

But why do we give? Is it out of obligation, guilt, or simply goodwill? Does it matter? From an ethical standpoint, surely what matters is that something has been given (money, time, talent, whatever) - however small - for a good cause, to enhance and enrich the lives of fellow human beings.
 
As we viewed those horrific images from Haiti, I heard none of those all-too-familiar intransigent voices pontificating that Charity begins at home. I have been pondering that phrase ever since it was uttered to me when I first returned from the  Nairobi slums. We ought to learn about charity first at home, as we experience love and spontaneous generosity in our own lives. Then, hopefully, we will apply it to others. So in a way, maybe charity does begin at home. In that way, perhaps our donations in later life become a reflection of our own personal values.

Listening to RTEs Liveline a few weeks ago, I heard a man phone in and plead with the National Lottery to donate the ¬2 million bonus payout to the people of Haiti. It never happened. I had the good fortune to perform for Ferrari the night before the Formula One Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi last October, but found the wanton flaunting of affluence unsettling in the extreme. Greed will always thrive. 

In the same way I attract people looking for directions (even when Im abroad), I also seem to be a magnet for weirdos, for people conducting surveys, and those dreaded chuggers (Charity Muggers). You know those people on our streets and doorsteps, with outstretched hands, and a clipboard, and a pen poised to take down bank details for the Direct Debit theyre suggesting you set up without delay in order to change the lives of people and give them hope for the future? I am not a fan of this licensed begging, and I wonder what percentage of the money actually goes to the charity, after the chuggers commission.

If you look at any of the websites of the larger charities, most of their mission statements are faultless.

The Red Cross helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. Medecins sans frontières (Doctors without borders) provide medical aid wherever needed, regardless of race, religion, politics, sex, while raising awareness of the people they help. St Vincent de Paul works for social justice and the creation of a more just and caring nation, giving practical support to those experiencing poverty and social exclusion  that cant be a bad thing! Concern   is dedicated to reducing suffering, and ending extreme poverty, and improving the lives of the poorest people. Needless to say  I could continue quoting many more estimable mission statements from innumerable charities.

What matters is the act of  giving.

It is indeed more blessed to give than to receive.

I recently drafted my first Will. While it was eery to read the opening line, declaring this to be my last Will and Testament  - I quite enjoyed deciding which charities to choose - charities which mattered to me.

In the words of Mother Teresa again  Do not wait for leaders : do it alone, person to person.&
Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody is the greatest hunger.

As the Dalai Lama says  My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.