I've heard it said that there is no such thing as an unselfish act. Everything we do for others provides a benefit to us. Whether it's because we feel responsible for helping them, or we just get a good feeling from helping, we still benefit from performing a good deed.
I speak for myself when I say that helping people makes me feel good about myself. I also believe that there is something for us after we leave this life. I may not define the way my childhood religion taught me but I believe there is something bigger than us that we will discover when we leave this plane. I think we were put here to take care of each other and I'm not sure how that's measured in the afterlife but I want to leave this life thinking I made a difference to at least one person. But that makes my good deeds purely selfish, doesn't it? Well, maybe not purely selfish. Hopefully the recipient(s) of my good deeds benefit from them as well.
I read an article about how, around the holidays, many people decide to become charitable with their time and other resources. They search for ways to donate a few hours here or there to a food bank or some such concern. They want to remind themselves about how fortunate they are or teach their kids about gratitude by showing them how little some other people have. Their motives aren't necessarily directed to helping others but rather for their own self interest. The write referred to these types of people, as "using the holidays as a poverty zoo", a type of holiday tourism. This practice provides the "donor" the opportunity to do something that is safe and not too difficult, for someone less fortunate than themselves. They leave feeling pretty good about themselves and their own circumstances.
Where are these people outside of the holidays? Much of the year, many charities are desperate for help but have an overload of supposedly well-meaning people knocking at the door only during the winter holiday season. Unfortunately, what this does is it reduces the recipients of the charity to a pawn in their "let me feel good about me" game. The very people who need a little dignity because much of theirs has been stripped away, are being used once again.
When we give to another person, it's important to remember that the recipient is still a person who deserves to maintain their dignity. They shouldn't be made to feel that the donor is in any way superior to them. They already feel bad enough in most cases because they have to accept charity in the first place.
One idea the author suggested was to collect unwrapped holiday gifts so that the parents could choose and wrap the gifts themselves and give them to their kids. It allows the parents to maintain some sort of autonomy over a situation where they have very little control. Receiving charity should be part of the healing process when someone is down and out and should not leave the receiver worse off than before the gift was given.
Become a regular volunteer so that you don't just show up for special occasions but help out all year as time allows. Be respectful of the recipients of your largesse and don't use them as a reflection of the blessings in your own life. You know how blessed you are. Don't make them prove it to you.
I was deeply moved by this article because I believe I am often guilty of the "there but for the grace of God go I" mantra. It could happen to any of us and I hope it happens to none of us. I'm sure I've often used others misfortune to feel good about myself by giving them money or food. I'm going to think twice about this in the future. I won't stop giving because sometimes people need a hand up. But I think I'll change the story I tell myself about it. The article is here if you're interested.
Are you dreading the holidays, knowing that you won't be able to wear the same clothes on New
Year's that you wore at the beginning of the feeding frenzy we call the holiday season? Are you worried that you might undo all the good you have done recently for your health? Do you think you might go off the rails with your food choices? Do the holidays get really stressful and cause you to make food choices that may not be very healthy?
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