A friend whom I wanted to see was in bad financial shape. I know that he likes a particular restaurant, and so I offered to buy his lunch there. He responded “I don’t take charity.”
I responded that I wasn’t planning on giving him charity, and that I expected someday for him to help another friend in dire financial straits when he was more stable. Besides, I desired his company, and so in point of fact I was simply paying for his time in kind rather than in cash. It was a rapid rationalization, but it did the trick.
Whenever the discussion of giving without expectation arises, this interaction comes to mind. It’s such a touchy subject; our UU congregation asks us, every year, to commit to giving a certain amount to the church. A friend referred to it as the “annual strong-arming.” It is, however, less intrusive than in the Mormon church, where apparently one is expected to provide a financial statement which is then used to generate what is essentially a bill for a formulaically derived amount. I’d probably tell them what to do with their bill, and offer to install it. No charge.
Largesse is about giving. A lot of people think that giving should be altruistic; one should give because it’s right to give. My problem with that premise is that it relies on either the person’s moral code or an external code of conduct. Giving thus is a result of guilt or shame in not giving, and often leads to resentment. (There’s a whole psychological subtext in there, but we can leave that as read if you don’t mind!) Instead, giving needs to be done from a sense of self-fulfillment. Robert Heinlein suggests “If tempted by something that feels ‘altruistic,’ examine your motives and root out that self-deception. Then if you still want to do it, wallow in it” (Time Enough for Love, 1978, ).
There is some truth in this. Giving to others can feel good. It can be tremendously rewarding. But giving is not giving if it is expected or demanded; at best, it’s a transaction and at worst it’s extortion. Giving because we’re expected to feel “altruistic” just removes the emotional process a step. So I don’t give because I’m altruistic. I give to things I think are important. Giving to those things feels good. Sometimes I give because I get something specific in return- I give to my congregation because my congregation provides services and such for me. I give to medical charities because I gain personal satisfaction out of it.
Another common misconception about giving is that it means money. I have two kids in private school and a single income; there’s not a lot in the way of excess money. So I must exercise some discretion in how I spend my money and on what. I do, however, have some time to give to charitable organizations. At present, however, that’s logistically difficult, as I don’t drive and me going somewhere means loading up the kids so my wife can take me there. Our household doesn’t leave- we deploy!
I do give to my church, however, and whenever possible to the charities that they support. Whenever we have an extra can of food, we donate it to our Beta Food Pantry, which feeds the homeless and housebound in our area. We also give cans to our kids’ school, which has a similar program.
One of the ways I try to always contribute my time is in our CUUPS group. In addition to rituals, we have lectures, and we try to attend those even when we’re not interested just because it’s important to have a decent audience. I also have committed to participating in every ritual for which I’m in town, so I rarely get to sit and just be a member of the “congregation.”
Is this largesse? I think it is. I give of my time and my energy when I don’t have to. We have many people who attend and have never called a quarter or invoked deity. Nobody complains at them about it, so it seems likely that I could just show up, and sit and enjoy the proceedings. I choose to give of my time so that the rit can be a successful ones that others can sit and enjoy.
There are opportunities for largess everywhere in our lives, if we know where to look for them. Our circumstances may require us to engage in some creativity. That shouldn’t be a problem for us- “the warrior’s path is creativity,” after all.