It’s that time of year again, when we think about fairy lights, the reason for the season, and giving. Christmas 2015 has come late to the Kendal household as this has also been a time when illness, a guest that never had a welcome to outstay, took up a residence for two months. I think we are finally managing to show it the door. Despite the lack of decorations and mulled wine, I’ve been thinking about how and why we give.
A while ago, my husband was at an art auction that was raising money for Compassion* and at the end he rang to check I was happy for us to give £50 to the charity; this one-off donation would buy a water filter for a family, giving them safe water for life. I have to confess that my second thought (after ‘go for it!’) was ‘oh, we should have bid for something in the auction in that case’. My internal reasoning was: if we’re going to give some money we might as well have gotten something in return. Terrible, I know.
This revelation of my selfish instincts prompted me to think about the propensity for ‘tit for tat’ in our society. We litter our social interactions with ‘I owe you one’ or ‘I’ll get it next time’. I read an article several months ago in which the author was championing a community of bartering. They described their realisation (instigated by a broken appliance saga) that it was socially acceptable to be given help or stuff from friends and family, but obviously only if they later gave time or skills or something in return. The author’s intention was to encourage people to barter rather than struggle to save and buy things new but, in truth, it made me really sad. It seemed such a shame that this person wouldn’t feel comfortable receiving an act of generosity from their friends or even family. Their’s was not a community of freely giving, but of repayment.
I’ve written before of the generosity we’ve experienced, particularly around the time when we were getting married and setting up home for the first time. People gave us so much – a desk, chest of drawers, many coffee tables, microwave… and never expected anything in return. The generosity we’ve experienced hasn’t been limited to tangible items; when we moved house earlier in the year friends gave up their bank holidays and annual leave to help shift our stuff across the city.
This generosity challenges my naturally miserly heart to hold a little less tightly to our purse strings and our weekend plans. Giving begets more giving. In the face of such generosity, we cannot help but be challenged to also give when we see a need or an opportunity to bless. And it doesn’t need to be extravagant to be powerful. I’m still moved when I remember the gift of £10 we received at a time when we were cash-strapped a few years ago so that we could enjoy a coffee date on Valentine’s Day.
Sure, exchanging second-hand items is better for the environment and kinder to our purses than buying new.
Giving that meets the specific needs of individuals at that time and place and expects nothing in return. In my experience, generosity like this inspires others to give freely to the needs they subsequently see. A lifestyle of giving that extends beyond the festive season. That’s a community I get excited about living in.
*A wonderful charity providing practical support (healthcare, education…) to help children escape poverty.
Today’s Soundtrack: Future of Forestry // Advent Christmas Volumes I & II