Not So Jolly Generosity
Christmas at my childhood home in Ebensburg, Pa., always involved additions to my large eight-child family. My mom, Thelma, wasn’t happy unless we included someone who didn’t have any family with whom to share the holiday. Along with a meal, the guests received a small gift, gloves or socks. They always left with a red, plastic-wrapped plate piled with leftovers and another filled with plenty of snowballs, chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter blossoms. They tried to argue with mom about eating, receiving a gift or taking home food. But, to quote the Borg, resistance was futile.
It made my mom feel good to do those things; (it also added two or three more folks to our already packed house) but she did it mostly out of a sense of obligation to her fellow man.
During the holidays, television and social media brim with folks saying how good it makes them feel to help others. That makes me bristle a bit. Why? Because doing good doesn’t always feel good. Doing good often feels inconvenient, hard, or uncomfortable.
I’m not suggesting that giving is bad for us. In fact, giving imparts many benefits on the giver. The article "5 Ways Giving is Good for You" states that giving makes us happy, promotes cooperation and social connection, boosts health, and causes a generosity domino effect.
But I protest the idea that each act of generosity will feel completely enjoyable, because it doesn’t. The nature of a gift is this that it requires some type of sacrifice, either time, money, energy or attitude. Sometimes that sacrifice happens when we least expect it, at inopportune moments. The neighbor asks us to watch her baby, after her sitter backs out, when we were planning on a nice quiet afternoon at home; or running late for work, we spy a young person whose car has drifted into a ditch, on a blustery 5- degree Pennsylvania winter’s day.
This notion of “good feels” assumes that our giving will be pleasant—it’s not always pleasant.
People give for different reasons. The Biblical notion of “caring for the least of these” drives me. Others may be guided by diverse religious beliefs, or a completely secular moral imperative. Mom gave, I think, because she never wanted anyone to feel alone at Christmas or any other time of year.
My mom can’t physically help as much as she used to, in fact, she’s on the receiving end of the help these days. She misses doling out the leftovers and cookie plates and reaching out to the lonely, the challenged, the sad.
This Christmas, invite someone new to your table, even though space might be tight; talk to an elderly neighbor, even though you’re wicked busy; chat with a frazzled cashier even though you waited in an exceedingly long line. Don’t do it to feel good, although you might; don’t do it to have fun, although you may; do it because it’s the right thing to do.
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