I have been thinking of why charity is such a huge part of creating a sustainable community, and furthermore, what it really means to be charitable.
We all know that charity is giving money or resources to those who are in need. However, that limited definition doesn’t truly explain charity. The full expression of charity includes deep, visceral empathy. It requires us to treat another’s suffering as our own, to know that the misfortune of one is actually the misfortune of us all – this is humanity.
Humanity allows us to change ourselves, to grow and evolve as benevolent beings. When I am charitable, I create a bond, a human connection with another. The benefits are two-fold. When I contribute to the well being of another, I feel greater self-worth myself.
It’s also a way for me to show that I have a responsibility to my fellow man, to my community.
I have a confession. Last week, I read the news of what has been one of the worst school massacres in US history. While I felt badly for the deceased and their loved ones, I didn’t truly feel their pain. I didn’t reflect upon it or question what my responsibility was in this horrible occurrence. I didn’t ponder, “What can I do to try and prevent this from happening again?”. One could say that I have become somewhat desensitized to such travesties.
In my reflection of the full meaning of charity, I want to add what may be a higher expression of charity; something that I think we must start doing as a collective whole. It’s not enough to write the check or to give goods or services to those less fortunate than myself.
We must do our best to feel the needy persons hunger, to understand that as a single human race, we are responsible for them and their care. We must put ourselves in the shoes of the mothers and fathers who lost their children last week, the brothers and sisters who lost their siblings, and feel their actual pain. Part of empathizing is recognizing that their misfortune could just as well been our own.
The lesson is to continue living in gratitude, to appreciate every moment and gift we have, but at the same time, feel the pain of those who suffer and do something about. These actions create community and sustainable change.