Spirituality and Community Building
Being charitable towards others is a spiritual asset—one that can contribute to community building. Some might even maintain that it is impossible to build a sense of belonging and community without some form of charitable practice.
An illustration is the South African view of community referred to as “Ubuntu,” which is usually translated as, “I am because of who we are.” Retired Archbishop and social rights activist Desmond Tutu believes that Ubuntu is the very essence of what it is to be human:
“You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality—Ubuntu—you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”
This value, or way of life—Ubuntu—suggests a way of thinking, seeing, and acting in the world that we live in now.
Tutu refers to being charitable as being someone with “generosity.” Whether you call it charity or generosity, each word translates to giving of one’s self for another, for the greater good of the community. This can be the giving of one’s time or finances, or something as simple as offering nonjudgmental and kind words.
Through charity or generosity of self, we create a deeper sense of community with each other. We begin to see ourselves as one—one community—connected with each other through Ubuntu. We begin to understand and to acknowledge, that we are interdependent in a respectful and supportive way.
As human beings, as a social clan, we have a need to live within supportive environments where we are nurtured and can thrive together, where there is a strong commitment to the well-being of the community as a whole. We are fundamentally designed to live this way. Being charitable towards one another is not just “a nice thing to do”; it is an imperative for our survival as humans, and for our well-being as a local and global community.
A WORKING DEFINITION OF “BEING CHARITABLE”
Based on your individual experiences, you may have your own meaning of the word charity or charitable behavior. The definition that we shall use for this post is that charitable behavior creates a feeling, which leads one to act voluntarily with kindness or goodwill towards another.
There are a number of synonyms or similar words to describe charity or charitable behavior that may be more comfortable for you; perhaps they resonate more with your values and beliefs. Here are a few based on Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions:
- Altruism: “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of other’s feelings and behavior that show a desire to help other people and a lack of selfishness”
- Benevolence: “disposition to do good: (a): an act of kindness, (b): a generous gift”
- Compassion: “a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.; sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it”
- Generosity: “the quality of being kind, understanding, and not selfish: the quality of being generous; especially: willingness to give money and other valuable things to others”
That said, what words or phrases you use to define charity are not as important as taking some form of action to support those who are in need.
In your community, one person may volunteer six hours a month of his time to a homeless shelter, serving meals cheerfully and making everyone smile. Another person may donate money to the same shelter, yet never enter its doors. Another may offer her knowledge and skills by teaching a class on literacy once a month to the shelter’s clientele. All of these are examples of charity and of charitable behavior.
There are many ways one can be charitable to others. There is no one right way, only your way—the way that feels right for you.
Four Aspects of Charity
More specifically, some ways to be charitable include:
Time: Giving of one’s time, however long or short that may be. Giving time is not so much about quantity, as it is about quality—about being present with another to support them in a “hands on” way. This might mean serving meals in that shelter, helping out during disaster relief, volunteering to drive seniors to appointments, baking dinner for a sick neighbor, or any number of activities that help you get to know those you are serving.
Essence: Giving of one’s personal energy and vitality. You may have some personal qualities in abundance and want to share them with others – enthusiasm, hope, grace, gratitude, patience, love – or you may want to increase these qualities in your own life. Each of these qualities brings energy to the space you share with someone when you are truly present with them. Examples: Hearing an exhausted young mother laugh; listening patiently while a man struggles to share his story of being out of work; offering encouragement to someone who feels disheartened. Your own energy and vitality shifts to being more positive and optimistic when you share your authentic self with another.
Talent: Giving of one’s skills and knowledge, such as teaching, gardening, cooking, knitting, or singing; or sharing wisdom from life experience. Everyone has gifts and talents that they are passionate about. These talents come easily and give you joy when you have a chance to express and share them.
Money: Giving of one’s financial resources to provide aid, food, shelter, or clothing; or making a donation to a local or global cause. The sum of money given is not as important as the spirit of the gift. You could start off by giving what you can afford, knowing that even spare change is helpful, and then increase the amount when you are ready, willing, and able to do so.
You may want to take the time to think about these four aspects of being charitable and evaluate which ones have the most meaning for you and where to begin. You may also want to reflect on these questions:
- Do you have time, but limited funds to give; or do you have money, but limited time? What can do you for others with your time or money?
- Is taking a more personal approach, one where you would work side by side with others, more appealing to you; or do you prefer a more hands-off approach—where you give openhandedly, but don’t need or want to meet the recipients of your generosity?
There is no right or wrong answer—your answer is your personal choice. Once you determine what is most important to you, then you may want to begin by writing down some thoughts and ideas that come to mind on how you want to express your unique way of giving. Include names of people or organizations you may wish to support. Being charitable doesn’t need to be complicated; a simple gesture can be meaningful to the receiver. Now you may be more ready to share yourself with others.
THE IMPORTANCE AND BENEFITS OF BEING CHARITABLE
Being Charitable Enriches the Giver and the Receiver
There are rewards to being charitable, both for the giver and the receiver. Not only are you being helpful to those in need, you are developing positive character traits and behaviors in yourself. Charitable work allows you to see life from someone else’s perspective—their struggles and hardships, their triumphs and strengths. It is a privilege to be a witness to another’s life. And in being one, you gain appreciation and gratitude for your own life.
Martha is a manager whose young husband developed an aggressive, terminal cancer. She had her hands and heart full nursing him at home and caring for their two small children. Her co-workers organized themselves, and together they provided dinner every day, not for a month, but every day for six months. Martha’s co-workers were witness to her hardship and struggle, and they responded. They appreciated a need greater than their own. They were inspired to draw on the positive character traits and qualities that live within us all—caring, generosity, selflessness.
Martha’s story showcases how the act of charity in a workplace makes it a community. Because of her co-workers, Martha was able to concentrate on what was important during those precious few months before her husband’s passing.
Many nonprofit community organizations devote themselves to helping those who are suffering from hardship. They seek compassionate volunteers; they offer them the privilege of witnessing someone else’s life by lending a helping hand. By sharing what gifts they have to offer, volunteers receive a gift—they discover and nurture the best within themselves.
On its website, the U.S.-based nonprofit Share the Care states, “Whether you are a burned out caregiver or a novice caregiver, or a friend who wants to help, you can benefit from a system that lets everyone share responsibilities, creates a strong support network among the individual caregivers, and leads to making a profound difference in someone’s life.”
Similar to other website resources like CaringBridge and Lotsa Helping Hands, Share the Care’s mission is connecting caring citizens with citizens going through difficult times in their lives. They are creating small temporary communities of giving within the larger community.
When you give yourself the privilege of being a kind presence in someone else’s life, you will make a difference in theirs and learn a quiet appreciation and gratitude for your own.
Charitable Behavior and the Golden Rule
We all wish to be treated with respect and dignity, and to feel valued and listened to. In the spirit of charity, we would strive to do the same for others. One way to look at this principle is through the lens of reciprocity, known to many as the “Golden Rule,” which states, “Do to others as you wish done to you.” Here is an ethical code that instructs us to treat others the way we would want to be treated.
Although different cultures and faith traditions might have different words and language, all human cultures have a version of the Golden Rule. It advises us to treat our neighbors, families, and colleagues as we would wish to be treated and shows how we can all apply empathy, understanding, and right action as our moral guideposts.
Depending upon your age or upbringing, you might remember the Golden Rule (or something similar) being introduced into your school, as part of your family values, or as a faith-based principle. It is a universal ethic, with the power to cut across gender, culture, age, beliefs, and social-economic status.
Wisdom traditions, such as the Golden Rule, date far back in our collective history and are expressed in a multitude of societies – both as lay philosophies and as the vital cornerstone of the vast majority of faith traditions.
The Golden Rule in Different Faith Traditions
In alphabetical order, each reads:
- Baha’i Faith: “Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself.” Baha’u’llah Gleanings
- Buddhism: “Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5:18
- Christianity: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Jesus, Matthew 7:12
- Confucianism:” One word which sums up the basis of all good conduct ~ loving kindness. Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.” Confucius Analects 15:23
- Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” Mahabharata 5:1517
- Islam: “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.” The Prophet Muhammad, Hadith
- Jainism: “One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated.” Mahavira, Sutrakritanga
- Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest in commentary.” Hillel, Talmud; Shabbat 31a
- Native Spirituality: “We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive.” Chief Dan George
- Sikhism: “I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all.” Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1299
- Taoism: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as our own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” Lao Tzu, T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien, 213-218
- Unitarianism: “We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” Unitarian principle
- Zoroastrianism: “Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself.” Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29
2 Corinthians 12:10
The Message (MSG)
7-10 Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.
Bathyspheres are amazing inventions. Operating like miniature submarines, they have been used to explore the ocean in places so deep the water pressure would crush a conventional submarine as easily as if it were an aluminum can, Bathyspheres compensate for the intense water pressure with plates of steel several inches thick. The steel keeps the water out, but it also makes a bathysphere heavy and difficult to maneuver. The space inside is cramped, allowing for only one or two people to survey the ocean floor by looking through a tiny plate-glass window.
What divers invariably find at every depth of the ocean are fish and other sea creatures. Some of these creatures are quite small and appear to have fairly normal skin. They look flexible and supple as they swim through the inky waters. How can they live at these depths without steel plating? They compensate for the outside pressure through equal and opposite pressure on the inside.
Spiritual fortitude works in the same way. The more negative the circumstances around us, the more we need to allow God’s power to work within us to exert an equal and opposite pressure from the inside. With God on the inside, no pressure on earth can crush us!
It is not enough to begin; continuance is necessary. Success depends upon staying power. Abiding in the word and prayer is the way to have strength to deal with the pressures of life.
The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.
I am going to let this video speak for me. I came home in this condition and “But God” I don’t know where I would be. We as Americans take the sacrifice that soldiers make.
Decorated, educated and experienced in warfare and life, but convicted as a felon and once addicted to cocaine and fabulous living I came home from nine campaigns with an expectation of entitlements because I served under adverse and stressful conditions. Faced with the reality that no one owed me nothing I tried to self diagnose and went self will run riot. I never taped a flag to a shopping cart and got a trusted dog for my companion, but I was sick and the VA said we can not help you. If It were not for praying people and a will to win and be something in life there go I.
As the media pays more attention to the invisible scars soldiers can bring home from service, a common picture has emerged: that of the strong, battle-hardened young man who is susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
But there is another face of mental illness in the U.S. Armed Forces, and it’s a female one.
Certainly, far fewer women than men join the armed forces. And until very recently, women were formally banned from combat. But plenty of women veterans are dealing with the unexpected aftereffects of military service.
Here are two women veterans’ stories. Each is coping with a different (but related) mental disorder while serving in the military.
After Mary, 40, was sexually assaulted by a fellow service member, the resultant post-traumatic stress symptoms combined to make her life hellish. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the trauma resulted in a psychiatric diagnosis—in her case, post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to the National Center for PTSD at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs:
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event like combat, assault, or disaster. Most people have some stress reactions after a trauma. If the reactions don’t go away over time or disrupt your life, you may have PTSD.
A person with PTSD may go into a fight-or-flight reaction in response to seemingly harmless stimuli like the sound of a car starting or the sight of a door opening. Mary is still in the military. She is stationed CONUS (within the continental United States), and she works in the field of health. She’s reticent about details: “I haven’t been terribly quiet about what happened to me, but I do not disclose that I have PTSD. If I did, I fear I would lose my current position within the service and ultimately, be removed from the service.”
She says, “PTSD is insidious; it creeps up on you. First, you may experience a moment of panic when you are in a crowded area. For most of ‘us,’ Wal-Mart is a PTSD nightmare. You may startle easy, way too easily. You’ll never be able to sit with your back to a door or respond in a ‘normal’ manner to someone who catches you off guard. If you don’t relive the experience during the day, your psyche ensures that you work through your issue at night in the form of sheet-tangling, sweat-soaked nightmares that no one should have to endure. These are the nightmares that wake you from the deepest sleep and cast a dark gloom over the whole of the next day.”
She says that for military service members like her (as well as for veterans), the best PTSD support groups are the ones that are closed to civilians. She adds, “Sometimes, there’s things only another service member can understand.”
When asked if she’d still join the military if she had the opportunity to do it all over again, Mary says, “Yes. I’m willing to bet the majority of us would all answer yes.”
What Trina remembers the most about her bout with severe depression was that nobody else in the Navy seemed to notice.
Trina joined up when she was 20 and spent nine years in the Navy. Among other things, she worked on diesel engines as part of her long-term goal to become a professional mechanic. But she tells Take Part that by the end of her service she was “sick of all the ruthless competition just to get promoted. You couldn’t trust anyone.”
She adds, “Also, it was destroying what little mental health I had left.”
According to the Veterans Administration:
Many symptoms of depression overlap with the symptoms of PTSD. For example, with both depression and PTSD, you may have trouble sleeping or keeping your mind focused. You may not feel pleasure or interest in things you used to enjoy. You may not want to be with other people as much. Both PTSD and depression may involve greater irritability. It is quite possible to have both depression and PTSD at the same time.
As Trina tells it, the darkness crept up gradually, eventually affecting her military service. She says, “I went from doing my work, and always looking for more, to doing absolutely nothing and finding ways to not be around, including being gone for two afternoons because I couldn’t face anyone. I was a teacher at our tech school at the time and was known for always being there for the students and helping them out. Suddenly, I avoided all of them. When I did end up in the hospital, everyone was shocked. My Chief even told my parents that he had no idea.”
After a hospital stay to treat severe depression, Trina returned to work. She says she tried to educate her fellow troops about the reality of mental illness, but felt they didn’t listen. And at least one higher-up was particularly insensitive.
Trina tells Take Part, “About six months later, I heard someone very high in our chain of command talking loudly about how a student was faking wanting to kill himself so he could get out of the school.”