Derived from the Latin word carus and the old French word charité, ‘charity’ originally meant love and compassion. So naturally, it became an important tenet in every religious text to encourage benevolent action and generous donations to the needy. Whatever be the notion of charity in people’s minds, it is always defined by two words — ‘voluntary’ and ‘giving’ — and therein, lies the beauty of charity.
True charity starts with giving up, surrendering the self. If the sense of “I” is a prime factor in giving, then condescension and self-glorification set in. It has been said that when your right hand donates, your left hand should be unaware of it. Serving others with much show and tell, whether in social media or in real life, appears more of serving the self than others. Quiet philanthropy is rare and so are people like Charles (Chuck) Feeney, the “James Bond of Philanthropy” who earned this title for his secrecy in donating every bit of his billion-dollar fortune to change the world.
However, seen from another perspective, if more and more people are to be drawn into the meaningful world of giving, publicity of the cause is sometimes necessary. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation could not have reached every corner of the world and garnered support from billionaire donors had the Gates’ chosen to be discreet about their own giving. In the world today, where ‘influencer’ has become a designated profession, inspiring largesse needs a display of walk the talk. Watching others engaged in charity can awaken the urge to help in those who see it, offer broader opportunities, or even apply peer pressure; irrespectively, the end result is a larger framework of giving hands.
Giving is not only about money. Giving time and respect to those who need it, improve lives by attending to emotional needs. Listening to those who are unheard — the elderly, the homeless, abandoned children, refugees, or just anyone who is lonely — allows them to voice their souls.
Basundhara Mitra is a freelance writer and poet and a former English teacher. Her writing has been published in numerous publications in India and the USA. Her poetry and essays have won several awards in the USA. She is presently a creative writing counsellor to college and high school students.