Giving is a major part of my life. Probably the greater part of it is invisible; charities I regularly support, flybys on givealittle
and so forth but to be honest I find these less satisfying than what I can do directly for those around me. Making someone's life immediately better even if only for a short time kicks off one of the few emotional highs remaining to me. You can argue about whether than makes it altruistic giving or not elsewhere, I don't care. What is important to me is that there is less stress in a persons' life at frankly, little substantial cost to me.
- pad your groceries? People who have full stomachs are happier, healthier and think better.
- top up your bus card? Represents pocket change to me, to you might represent the freedom
to leave the house and get to where you want/need to be when you want/need to be.
- covered an unexpected shortfall? Luck comes in good and bad, I have plenty of the former so please let me share it with you.
Life does not treat everyone equally, but it is within our power as people to redress the balance. Especially those of us to whom it has been more than fair; and I think compassion demands that we do so. Some people prefer to argue from a position of self interest - make sure other have (just) enough and they won't be motivated to try and take
what you have to redress the balance. That's better than building fortresses ("gated communities") and hiring guards to keep the mob from the door I suppose.
I can understand how a person who has had to struggle, work and fight their whole life to get above the line and stay there might not be able to let go of that mindset, no matter how much success they achieve it may be that in their own mind they will always be poor and one unexpected bill away from disaster. But I also know that there are many who do not fall into that trap and having made their way to a comfortable position do a great deal to try and help others do the same. That makes much more sense to me - having been
there how would not want to get other people out of the situation once you have means?
I am not one of of these; the metaphorical spoon in my mouth may not have been silver but it is less through my own efforts that I am where I am today than the gifts afforded from from my parents' hard labours. And so I can understand how, up to a certain age, a person can be raised simply not cognizant of the harsh realities of life for many. In the modern world my sympathy for that mindset runs out a year or two after they have reached university and should have had the opportunity to start taking a critical look at the world around them.
As always grateful that again, life has been more than fair to me and my sympathy for the struggles of others is born of intellect and a sense of fairness than hard personal experience.
So we come back to the position where I have- more than enough and so I endeavour to share my good fortune. I give this less than I would like; for two reasons
- Rationally I do need to keep putting some aside for my own future. How much is arguable, but I am not at the position where I can absolutely soak a large expense (such as the one about to be incurred for drain replacement) just yet, and I have no certainty that NZ's welfare state will be in a condition to look after me in my old age.
- it occupies not just the physical resources but also time and energy.
On this latter we have as a society theoretically harnessed the specialisation of labour to handle this. We pay takes to a central organisation (government) and one of the things they are supposed to do with them is make sure that if life treats us poorly we are looked after to a not-uncomfortable standard. In the meantime our money is (supposed to be) used to look after those who life is currently treating poorly. This should free us from the greater part of a need to worry about the circumstances of our families, friends, acquaintances / strangers.
Our current government is rejecting that part of it's duties (granted it is not the first to do so). Instead of going directly - in cash or in kind - to people who need food and shelter significant amounts of "our" money are shown to be being spent propping up companies that by National's own market ethos should probably be allowed to fail / take their business elsewhere, or paid in bribes to already wealthy individuals in countries where corruption is blatant, or siphoned off as indirect subsidies to private accommodation providers and old-boys-network businesspeople who are already "above the line".
One result of this is that I - multiplied by who-knows-how-many-others - have to spend more of my time and energy personally directing resource to the people I can see in need, and relying on the voids which are charities to be doing the right thing just to help regular people when they should be able to focus on those who positions are truly dire. And in some ways that /waste/ pisses me off just as much as seeing people around me living in poverty and the mis-appropriation of public money.
I am one person of good but still moderate means. I cannot do enough to even scrape the surface. I can feed a few people but I cannot house them. Organisations which have been set up explicitly to address the issues and channel the contributions of people like myself are barely scraping the surface. Central government is actively and deliberately
following policies guaranteed to make the situation worse while benefiting those who already have more than enough.
My local council is one of the largest providers of social housing in the country (an operation which is currently being strong-armed to privatisation by central government). I occasionally encounter people who state vehemently how they are against their rates being used for such a purpose. I have no time for this attitude. Homelessness and poverty have both local and regional aspects and I absolutely
expect our elected representatives
at all levels to work together at the task of redirecting a sufficient portion of our taxes to those in need (rates being pretty much the closest we have in NZ to a formal tax on land even if they are not particularly responsive to capital gains).
Taking care of those who do not have the means to take care of themselves I consider the first duty
of a supposedly democratic government. All else follows from or supports that. In doing so, for those of a more right-wing bent, people are freed to be more productive and contribute their best to society and the future rather than burning our all - and in the case of those who turn to crime, others all as well - just to survive.
[deep calming breaths]
The point I was getting around to is actually about the visibility of giving. This morning I posted quickly in my FB and Tumblr
When we talk about “give and take” why is the implication always that the giving and the taking are between the same two entities?
If I am in a position to give freely what someone needs why is it expected that I am expecting something in return? If you are in want of something why should it have to come from someone that already owes you or that you are then expected to owe?
Much better that we all give what we can when we see a need, and try to make out own desires visible without guilt or suspicion for others seeking to fulfil them - or be it necessarily with the the acceptance that there may not be anyone who feels they are in a position to do so.
I know a lot of people above and below the line, and plenty of those have moved from one side to the other and sometimes multiple times over the years. I am fairly public about much of the personal giving I do, not because I desire the plaudits (although they are nice) but in an endeavour to set an example to others above the line who may meander across my trail. To make giving freely visible and accepted, because I alone cannot make a lasting difference.
Related reading: that came through my Facebook feed while I was typing this up: How we got Here