I used to wonder about what it means to be charitable. How charitable should I be? To whom should I be charitable? How can I keep from being charitable towards someone who is not deserving of it? I don’t want to waste my money or time on someone who doesn’t deserve it. I don’t want to “get taken.” That whole line of thought can take one down a slippery slope of confusion. All that worry about how our gift will be used just wore me out. Sometimes it became easier not to do anything than to figure it all out.
I think perhaps the proliferation of charitable organizations is the result of our trying to answer those questions. You can give your money, energy, or time to an organization that will determine a recipient’s worthiness through an application process, helping only those that meet their criteria. You don’t have to look the needy person in the eye or hear their stories. You don’t have to decide for yourself whether each person is worthy. The charity will do it for you. Surely they are better qualified. And that is certainly a valid approach, but I think there’s more to be considered.
What if we’re missing the essential question? The question may really be: Why should I be concerned whether the recipient of my generosity is worthy of it? Isn’t my act of charity for my own spiritual edification? I’ve read that in older cultures beggars were valued because they provided a service for the townspeople. They provided a way for the citizens to be generous. Nobody asked them why they didn’t get a job. Nobody asked them what other resources they had. Nobody cared how they used the money. It wasn’t about the receiver. It was about the giver. The beggar enabled the giver to receive a blessing from their generosity.
I think a lot about the highway ramp panhandlers. Don’t give them money, we’re told. Most of the time it will be used to pay for drugs or alcohol, we’re told. Maybe that’s true most of the time, but…does that even matter? So what if the person we give money to doesn’t deserve it? And what does “deserve it” mean, anyway? By whose standards do we measure the worthiness? What if we miss a chance to help someone who really does “deserve it” because we’re afraid we might be helping someone who doesn’t?
All these are hard questions, and not ones that I can claim to have all the answers to. To help or not to help highway panhandlers, for example, is one of those questions I am still struggling with. But this I know for myself: it is better if I don’t worry about “being taken” or about the worthiness of the recipient. I felt so much better when I put all needless worry aside. I possibly can’t “be taken” if I give willingly and freely, for myself, and with no expectations of the recipient. If I turn away from someone in need that I could have helped, it is my Karma that is affected. If a person accepts my generosity fraudulently, it is their Karma that is affected. That’s all it is. It’s Karma.
The sad fact is that we create such social, cultural, and economic barriers between ourselves these days that we don’t often have the opportunity to understand directly the struggles others may be facing. Too often, we look and pass judgment from afar.
Having a generous spirit is an attitude for facing life and engaging with the world. Being generous does not depend on how you are treated, but rather on how you approach others with an open heart and mind. Being generous requires that you sometimes suspend judgment, and that you demonstrate a tolerance for ideas and behaviors that may not align with your own, whether in appearance, lifestyle, belief, or culture. It means you spend more time looking for the good, the unique—the special spark—in others than at what you may perceive as their shortcomings. It means being accepting. It means offering assistance or kindness to another without having any expectations.
Generosity of spirit, dear reader, is an important component of our emotional health and spiritual growth. Being generous just for the fun of it can open our hearts to more happiness and joy than we expect. It sets a wonderful example for our children, and encourages others to reach out with their own generosity. We are all in this thing called life, and we are in it together. Your generosity can create happiness and joy for yourself and for others. We surely need more of that in this world, don’t we?