The basic idea of charity entails sacrifice. More specifically, it is the opposite of selfish. It is sacrificing some of one’s own interests for someone else’s benefit.
We humans also sacrifice in non-charitable ways too. When we workout at the gym and diet, for example, we sacrifice some of our short-term interests like enjoying the comfort of sitting on the couch and the pleasure of tasting cake and soda for alternative, more sophisticated goals. Of course that is just one example of countless.
In comparison to when we do work at the gym and pay money to the gym, charity is when we do work or spend money or accept discomfort for the sake of other people, namely those in need. To say we do it for other people’s sake doesn’t mean we don’t also have a self-serving reason to do it too. Just like when we invest in exercise for a future return, when we do the sacrifice of charity we get something in return, something deep and rewarding in us. This comes from love. We are loving people, and this makes us inherently charitable. We have an inherent tendency towards sacrificing for other people by doing hard, hard work the same way one might work hard in the gym or work hard going to school to get something they more deeply want for themselves.
I believe love is measured by if not defined by sacrifice. What is the epitome of love if not maybe a mother throwing herself in front of a bus to push her child out of the way. The ultimate sacrifice. The ultimate act of love.
That’s a special love and easy to imagine.
But (with the exception of a few literal psychopaths) we all have love and empathy for each other, for everyone. We love and sympathize and feel bad for all those thousands of children who starve to death every day. And for the starving adults. And the people who suffer in poverty. And those suffering and dying from treatable diseases and preventable diseases. And those with AIDS or cancer. And those suffering in inhumane prisons or dying in needless oil wars.
We each have a deep urge to help these suffering people, to save the lives of these children. It pains us to see or think of their suffering little faces.
Even if the complicated politics make it not as simple as handing over some food or money to save them, when it comes to this urge, this love, like the mom throwing herself in front of a bus, we still have such an incredibly strong urge that we would do that hard more elaborate work that needs to be done. We’d be a full-blown activist. We’d be Mother Theresa. We’d throw ourselves in front of a bus.
But we don’t.
Maybe we give a dollar to the charity when asked at the supermarket or make some other small change in our life, knowing the relatively small gesture doesn’t match our great love and sympathy for these suffering people, knowing it is little of what we really want to sacrifice.
But we don’t do more.
Well let’s go back to that repeatedly used gym example. How many of us really are that great about working out and dieting?! Starving kids is a problem but so is the obesity epidemic. Even when we take charity out of the equation, we can see we have some sort of problem with sacrifice at all. We don’t even act on our self-love appropriately. We’re not even selfish. We’re more like addicts. Working out and dieting is just an example. If that’s not your thing, then it’s watching too much TV, or drinking, or being a shopaholic constantly disappointed at yourself for breaking your budget that you set for yourself, or not keeping your house clean, or being a rageaholic, or sleeping with too many strangers and being bummed about it, or being bummed at yourself for being a homebody. People aren’t happy with themselves.
And they have themselves to blame. But they are caught in this lonely, self-deprecating cycle like a textbook addict. Finding their pleasures in short-sighted indulgences, feeling bad at themselves for not meeting their long-term goals and sticking to their own plans by abstaining from such indulgences, and then filling that sad self-disappointment and loneliness with more self-destructive indulgence. We can’t help starving children because we can’t help ourselves.
A lot of so-called middle-class people can barely make it off the couch to do the dishes.
A lot of people can’t stop killing themselves with Big Macs or drinking or cigarettes or whatever their vice is. How could we expect them to save anyone else’s life?
And this kind of self-destructive pattern destroys intimacy and relationships. People have friends officially and official girlfriends or official boyfriends or wives or husbands and families and friendly coworkers; but they still feel alone, and scared. They can’t love these people right because they can’t love themselves right. They still have this hole in their heart.
So it all comes back to love and sacrifice.
I really believe that the main key in actually dealing with issues like child starvation, severe poverty and the spread of diseases isn’t formulating the perfect complicated economic plan or jiggling things at the capital just right. The key is love.
It might sound cliché, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s the truth.
If we can’t get in touch with that, then we might as well just eat or drink or smoke ourselves to death and give up these dreams of saving starving children.
So you who are reading this… I probably don’t know you or maybe I do. But I promise you I love you. I don’t have all the answers. And I am very far from perfect. But we are all struggling, and I want you to know we are in this together and I love you.
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About Scott Hughes
I am the author of Achieve Your Dreams. I also published the book Holding Fire: Short Stories of Self-Destruction. I have two kids who I love so much. I just want to be a good role model for them. I hope what I do here makes them proud of me. Please let me know you think about the post by leaving a comment below!