“Charity sees the need, not the cause.” (German Proverb) – as seen recently on the Jack’s Winning Words blog. Jack went on to add, “Compassion for the poor, whatever the reason for poorness, is a value worth teaching.”
Americans are, for the most part, compassionate and giving people who are quick to give when they see a need. Americans also tend to let the temporary good feeling that they get about that giving be enough and then move on with life. In our healthcare world, it seems that we are told (and believe) that there is a pill that we can take to make things all better, no matter what the problem. In our day-to-day lives the “pill” that we take to make the needs that we encounter better is throwing that dollar in the red kettle or handing it to the homeless man on the street. We take our giving pill and get on with life.
Certainly, there is nothing wrong with showing our compassion through our spontaneous giving; however, that same homeless man will be back at the same spot tomorrow, again begging for help, unless we do something different and focus some of our energy on the causes for his condition. Is it an addiction to drugs or alcohol? Is it a lack of education or job training? Does he have an untreated mental health issue? Is he/she unable to work because they have no way to get to work? Is she begging for food and clothing for her family because she can’t afford child care and can’t work?
In addition to the knee-jerk reaction of compassionate giving, we need to be asking questions. What are the causes? What can we do about those causes? If we do nothing about the causes, how can we expect things to change?
If you dig into the causes, you might be surprised to find that there are many grass-roots organizations already in existence to provide things like educational and tutoring services, job skills training, transportation services, addiction counseling and help, mental health counselling and help and much more. You will probably also find that all of those organizations are run on a shoestring and could use your help, both financially and your volunteer time. In my area there are several groups that do more than just giving someone a buck or two. Community Sharing in Highland, MI, runs a food bank both for people and for their pets; but, that’s just a part of what they do. They also run counseling programs designed to help break the cycle of poverty and to help people get back on their feet and back into the mainstream of society. The Salvation Army is in most communities and runs job training programs to help people re-skill themselves and get into the job force. There are also many local transportation options being offered to help get people to work or to doctors’ appointments.
If you look for these groups and services you will find them and you will find that they always need help – volunteers or paid positions to actually do the work of the programs that they run. You can sign up and probably work as much and as hard as you wish helping them fight the causes of poverty, homelessness and hopelessness in your community. Will you solve the world’s problems by doing that? No, but you will make a difference that you can see in the lives that you touch. You might be there to share in his joy when he collects his first paycheck from his new job. Maybe you’ll be able to help him carry in some furniture for his new home. Those are feelings will be a whole lot more meaningful for him and for you than the temporary feeling of good that you get as you drop your dollar in his hat and hurry on down the street.
In most communities there are hundreds of volunteer opportunities for those who wish to give more than just money. One way to find out what the needs for volunteers are in your community is to go to VolunteerMatch.org and check on your community. When I tries it to see what might be available around my area 558 volunteer opportunities came up. Try it for your community and see what needs are right around you that you may be able to help with.
So, the next time you reach for your wallet to throw a buck into a beggar’s hat, stop long enough to consider what he/she really needs to get back on their feet and then find a way to volunteer to help with that cause. There is an old proverb that is really an appropriate analogy – “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Volunteer to become a teacher of men and help make lifetimes better.