…And Then I Got In A Fight With Jesus.
So several years ago around Christmas I got into this insane argument with one of Justin’s aunts about charitable work. Really. It was crazy. Crazy because this particular aunt IS the very definition of a charitable person. Even her career – and that of her husband – is about providing comfort and support and a means for those less fortunate to navigate through this confusing system of ours. She is compassion incarnate. Or something.
So what was the argument?
It basically stemmed from the fact that I tied the act of giving to the idea of karma.
Allow me to explain. We were talking about charity and random acts of kindness and such. I said the beauty of any giving act is that while it certainly does some good for the recipient, it also instills in the giver a feeling of happiness, and… dare I say it?… pride. And the reason this is a good thing is because this feeling is likely to inspire the giver to give again, thus perpetuating the cycle of good deeds and good feelings. The design is flawless.
Or so I thought.
The problem with the correlation I made is that Justin’s aunt is devoutly religious. She was deeply and personally insulted by my apparent insinuation that people only do good deeds in order to reap karmic rewards. (And I assure you that is not what I said.)
Moreover, she would never dream of leading a charitable life simply because it made her feel happy. (Again, not what I said.)
In fact, it was her duty as a Christian to help those in need. (I can hardly argue with that, now can I?)
I tried to explain that I meant a nice “side-effect” of showing kindness towards others is the inevitable little warm fuzzy that nestles up in your face, your throat, your heart. It can’t be helped. It’s there, whether you want it or not. And, whether you realize it or not, it encourages you to continue to feed it by doing more nice things.
What’s wrong with that? Sounds like a win-win to me…
So you’re saying there is no such thing as a selfless act???
Of course not. All I’m saying is if a “selfless” deed just so happens to make you feel good about yourself, what is so wrong with that? The worst that could happen is it will inspire more selfless deeds.
Why do you think we like this guy on HGTV?
Or this guy on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition?
Or this woman, doing what she does best?
Because they perpetuate the good. But no one can say they don’t get anything out of it.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter why a person does something nice. It’s just that he/she does it.
Which brings me to Part 2 of my personal Christmas reformation project. Part 1 started here, when I realized there is no possible way for me to make everyone I love happy over the holidays. Even so, I shouldn’t let that deter me from getting as much enjoyment as I can out of the things it will be possible for me to do. Is that selfish? Perhaps. But I’ve noticed over the years that the happier I am, the happier it makes people around me. Try it. You’ll see.
My next selfish step (aka. part 2) was to get myself a Christmas present. The gift of a warm fuzzy.
(Now before you stop reading because you’re afraid I’m going to ask you for money, don’t worry! I know these are tricky times for everyone. I will include a link at the bottom in case you are interested, but that’s it.)
In order to get my warm fuzzy, I made a donation to a charity I’ve read a lot about in recent months – one I’m confident will make the most of my meager contribution. And trust me, it was meager. And, just like I predicted, I now want to do a little more.
What I have decided is that no one will be buying me a wrappable gift this year. I’m tired of trying to think of something easy and affordable that someone could buy for me that I couldn’t just as easily buy for myself (because let’s face it – no one I know really wants to buy me this, andMark Zuckerberg has yet to accept my friendship request on Facebook). So if anyone asks, I will send them to my charity. It will literally take them 30 seconds to buy my gift, and they can spend as much or as little as they’d like. Then, if they really want to go above and beyond, they can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or leave me a comment here to tell me about it. I want them to get the warm fuzzy too.
Everybody wins – and really, I don’t mind if they feel good about it.
I realize this is not a groundbreaking idea. It’s not even a… um… ground tapping idea. But it’s new for me. And even if just one person gets me what I want this year (*cough*mom*cough*), I can honestly say that it will be the best gift I’ve received in a very, very long time.
To cross me off your Christmas list, click on THIS LINK to read about the GOD’S CHILD Project and then click the yellow “Donate” button. You can also read more about the GOD’S CHILD Project on this website.
Don’t forget to send me an email (email@example.com) or leave a comment on this post if you make a donation. And even if you don’t make a donation but like the idea or are doing something similar, please share!
You know I’d LOVE to buy you a gift, especially the camera lens. I wish I could. There is nothing I’d like more than to do so. I’d rather buy all my kids great gifts than to receive any. Why? Because it would make you happy, but also because it would make ME happy! So I would agree with you, sorry Justin’s aunt!
It’s ok – I’ll buy the lens when the blog makes it big (Ha!). For now, a donation would be perfect. :)
I just want to say that I hear you (even though you technically didn’t say it explicitly)… I am still not convinced there is such thing in this life as a wholly selfless action. As far as I have seen thus far, it’s not possible. Hopefully that doesn’t get me in trouble with any aunts! Anyway, kudos to you on your Christmas reformations. Do what you gotta do! Mine are to remain as I am, hold on tight and hope for the best one more time. It’s worked so far! Cheers and keep up the good work – you are one prolific blogger!
I’m glad you hear me. And don’t worry – the aunts will LOVE you! I think your holiday goals are great – although good luck remaining as you are – in my experience that can only last for so long. Maybe it’d be better to try, in the case where you can’t remain as you are, to only get better. :)
Katie — Once again a great and thought-provoking post. And, as a Christian, I whole-heartedly agree with you! You are right — one of the reasons we give good gifts is because of the feeling it gives us. On the most basic level, it reflects the character and nature of God Himself. God gives us good things, not because He is selfless, but because He wants us to enjoy life and, in turn (or, in karma, if you wish), God enjoys the feeling that it gives Him to see us enjoy the gifts He has given. In fact, you might share with your relative (and knowing that you don’t necessarily agree with the concept, but it might win an argument), God sent Jesus to earth in the first place because He was selfish. He wanted us to live with Him and this was the only way. So, in the eyes of most Christians, the best gift ever given was, at least, partially selfishly motivated!
Wow… Where were you 2 years ago, Greg?? :) In all seriousness, that was well-said and an excellent point. I’m glad I didn’t offend and that you could see I wasn’t arguing against the act of giving – just wondering whether giving can really be selfless, and if not, does it really matter?
Thanks for the great post and support. I laughed aloud at one part. I’ve wondered along similar lines, wondering if doing things for others is essentially self-serving if it give the do-gooder a payoff. If you think long enough down these lines though you kinda see how absurd that line of thought is. It would mean that the the people we should admire are the people who do good things for others but hate doing it. Where’s the fun in that? There is no fun in that. But if the giver and the receiver of both feel good about the act of helping, then that’s a pretty good deal for all sides.
Thanks, Luke! And I couldn’t have said it better myself. :)
I went to JCP.com and clicked on the Angel Giving Tree link and adopted an angel (6 yr old little girl from Sanford) to buy clothes and toys for. They provide you with a short list of needs and wants for the child. My youth group always adopted several children each year and we would all go out together and buy the gifts. I have everything I need so for me, other than the movie “A Smoky Mountain Christmas” :), playing Santa Claus for children who otherwise may not get anything is the best part of Christmas!
Leslie, that is such a cool thing to do! When I worked for the Air Force I had our office adopt a family instead of doing a gift exchange for each other. It seems so much more… pertinent. And it’s a really great feeling to know you’re helping someone in your own town. You are such a sweet person!