Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Generosity: The New American Dream
Life is a crazy thing. Every day we (global citizens) wake up and are forced to confront, and yet expected to ignore, the paradoxes around us. Some of us ('Westerners', but especially those of us who call the US home) are told to pursue the dream of others. A dream whose exact definition is elusive, but which conjures images of a house/mortgage with an over-sized lawn, 2-3 cars, 2.5 children, and a 'career' which will lead us securely towards the "Golden Years".
Yet most of us learn from an early age that pursuing what is right, what is good, what is just, are worthy pursuits. Yet, as a rule, the elusive American dream demands selfish pursuits - often times even to the detriment of others - and offers the idea of volunteering or service or generosity as an exception; only to be done in 'spare time,' if we have any. Without more role models portraying lives of service toward a greater good, what chance do we have of living up to the things we were taught as children?
The citizens of the United States individually give a lot monetarily toward 'charity'. Somewhere in the vicinity of 3% of our incomes we give away. That is a great start. But it is just a start. When the working and middle class families give more of their income than the upper socio-economic classes, and when we have so many societal ills (outrageously expensive healthcare, vast homeless populations, a decrepit public education system, failing ecosystems, etc, etc) with global ills to match, my hope is that we will not give up on giving.
In an age when the government is slashing budgets to truly amazing programs such as Peace Corps, Americorps, Community Block Grants, community health organizations, and the like, it is our money that is needed the most. Yet it truly isn't our money. Whether you believe that everything you have is a gift or not, it is vital we see the connection between how we try to control our money and the failing systems we live in.
I was inspired yesterday by a friend who, though he and his wife are struggling to make ends meet, gave Ash and I an unsolicited financial contribution to 'help where you think its needed in Moldova'. This spirit, one of complete generosity and trust that money can go farther when let go instead of clutched tightly, is something I rarely see, even in myself.
I truly believe that this kind of generosity, even if at first it is done more out of discipline than out of desire, is an important stepping stone toward reclaiming the values of our childhood. Values that lay claim to justice and other worthy pursuits.