We’re living (and dying) in a “quadfecta” of 1) A raging, unprecedented pandemic, 2) Economic inequality and hardship at the highest levels in memory, 3) Racial injustice permeating almost every aspect of American life and 4) Climate change eating away at our planet, and the lives it sustains.
Although we’re all experiencing the same storm, we’re not necessarily in the same boat. Many of us live in abundance, while a growing number of our fellow community members live with a scarcity of funds, employment, housing, equity, health and even companionship. Some of our boats are safe, well stocked and seaworthy. Others are being tossed about by the storm and leaking.
And now, the Holiday Season is upon us—traditionally a time of joy, goodwill and giving. We have two choices when it comes to philanthropy, particularly now: Do nothing, or do what we can.
The term “philanthropy” is a combination of two ancient Greek words: “philos” meaning “love” in the sense of caring for, nourishing, developing and enhancing; and “anthropos” meaning “human being” in the sense of our common humanity and interdependence. Philanthropy is inherently optimistic, reflecting the deeply held belief that we can have a positive impact on the lives of others as well as on stubborn societal issues.
‘Tis the Season to Take Action
Because of the pandemic, there won’t be the typical holiday parties, celebrations, gatherings, events or meals. So, instead of being bystanders, here are some things we can do:
- Start with the money you would’ve spent on those holiday happenings and set it aside for giving.
- Ask your family members, friends and colleagues to spend the money they planned to spend on gifts for you to donate to a charity of your choice.
- Ask your spouse, partner, children or other relatives if there’s a charity or cause that they would like to support and share the experience of researching the options and donating with them.
- Instead of buying more “stuff” for your family and friends, give a charity gift card that you load with a cash amount that enables the recipient to donate to a charity of their choice.
- And, finally, examine your own ability to dig deep to support nonprofits – particularly smaller, local organizations on the front lines of the greatest needs of the day.
Nearly everyone has a story of times when they wish they had done more to help someone in need. Here’s one of mine.
I was 21 years old, traveling alone in southern Turkey, when I came upon a mob of people in a small fishing village. In the middle of the crowd was a mentally disabled young man who was being taunted by the group. They pushed him and threw stones at him. Someone ran up and put a large paper bag over his head. The crowd roared with laughter. Someone else spun him around until he fell, dizzy and disoriented and the laughing and taunting went on. The bag stayed on his head. No one intervened.
I wanted more than anything to come to his defense. Yet, I knew that if I did, as the only westerner within miles, I would have been the next person in the center of the mob. So, I turned around and walked away. I did nothing. It took me decades before I felt comfortable sharing this experience with others.
We are all bystanders when, living our busy lives and facing our own challenges, we witness societal problems and fail to act. We are all bystanders when we lose sight of our connections with other living beings and our planet and accept their predicament as “just the way things are.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being ‘too late.’ … This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
With the holidays upon us, and so many in need, I hope you’ll take positive action and be a philanthropist to the extent you are able. Happy and healthy holidays to you!