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
Remember, no human condition is ever permanent. Then you will not be overjoyed in good fortune nor too scornful in misfortune.
If one hundred people thought about the good this cause is meant to perform and gave $ 10.00 we would at least be able to get all the paperwork done like 501C3 and C5 done and file for grants to pursue all the other needs to get this program in place for those who need it. We want to thank those that contributed in a huge way already, but our time is ticking. Please click the insignia to view our cause.
Helping the less fortunate in your community by giving them opportunities to provide for themselves is a form of philanthropy, the Greek word for love of mankind. Choose a service you want to offer to those in need. Food services help the needy enjoy a meal while a homeless shelter provides them with a place to rest while in transition. Sell used clothes and household items at a fraction of the cost of new ones. Opening a business that helps the less fortunate may not bring in much profit, but it may inspire other acts of philanthropy.
We are all born receptive to love, kindness and hope. As we grow up, we encounter the less hopeful, more challenging aspects of being human, including discovering that the things humans do at times can be hateful, calculating and unkind. Although this can turn us cynical or leave us feeling helpless, human beings are just as capable of the most incredible, amazing and wonderful kindness and love. And beyond the heroic and fearless acts that occasionally hit the headlines, it is really the everyday, often overlooked actions of deep kindness and caring that restore our faith in humanity––everyday kindnesses like caring words, a reassuring hug, a helping hand-up in times of trouble and the unquestioning acceptance of our worth by a complete stranger. If you’re feeling a little jaded about where humanity is headed, here are some active ways to restore your faith.
Spend time helping people less fortunate than you. A reality check can come in the form of looking at people who are experiencing things 10 times or 100 times worse than you are and yet manage to meet each day with passion and positivity, believing that being alive is its own reward. Rather than simply reading about such people, get involved through volunteering so that you can see face-to-face the hardships experienced by others. For example, you might consider volunteering at a hospice, a hospital for children with terminal diseases or in a disaster relief community where people have lost homes and livelihoods. However bad things may seem for you, seeing the pluck and determination of those undergoing severe hardships can help you to realize that human beings really are amazing, resilient and deeply profound. It can also help you to balance your own woes and keep them in perspective.
Ask people to tell you about the happiest moments in their life. How often do you ask people to recall the happy memories and what makes them happy now? People love talking about what they care about, what motivates them and what makes them happy and yet, it’s not always an obvious topic for general conversation. It’s really important to provide the space for people to open up about their happy moments––it helps them to articulate in front of an audience what matters most to them (and may thereby inspire them even further) and it will help you to see the lighter, brighter and happier side of the people in your life.
Read public gratitude journals available online (simply search for “online gratitude journals”). Reading about how other people find gratitude in everyday things can inspire you to feel more hopeful generally and to see that many, many people genuinely care for the beauty and awe of this world and its beings.
Changes in sentencing laws over the last 25 years have led to an era of mass incarceration with the prison population of the United States quadrupling since the early 1970s. In addition to America’s shift in sentencing policy, political and social forces in this country have led to a reduction in both prison rehabilitation and parole programs. As a result, more prisoners are completing full sentences while in prison, and being released with little or no legal supervision on the outside.
As Jeremy Travis states in But They All Come Back, the reality of mass incarceration has translated into a reality of reentry.
Because there are record numbers of inmates who are being released with minimal to no preparation behind bars or support services in their communities, criminal justice experts, academicians, policy makers, and practitioners have once again turned their focus to prisoners returning to society, or what has become known as prisoner reentry.
Prisoner reentry has become a lens through which to view the numerous issues related to the process of a prisoner’s release from incarceration and his or her reintegration into communities and society at large. It seeks to encourage the coordination of programs, services, and human resources–both inside and outside prison walls–in order to ensure the successful assimilation of prisoners into new lives, roles, jobs, families and communities.
The literature on prisoner reentry is considerable. Anyone looking into the subject of reentry might consider the wide array of issues subsumed under the prisoner reentry umbrella—probation, parole, prisoner deinstitutionalization, restorative justice, recidivism, crime victims’ rights, public safety, health, substance abuse, family violence, mental illness, housing, employment and economics. Questions of race, gender, and/or age are also of interest. Employ these words and/or phrases as key words in developing a successful research strategy for locating books in CUNY+ and/or journal articles in the periodical databases listed below. Reentry is sometimes spelled with a hyphen as “re-entry.” You may want to use both spellings.
These days many governors face a conundrum that is taxing their cost-cutting creativity. State revenues are climbing steadily, but the top line growth is eclipsed by soaring Medicaid outlays, surging retirement obligations, declining state pension fund assets and, in some states, court-mandated increases in public school funding. The pressure is so acute that state officials are now thinking the previously unthinkable — releasing inmates early to trim their prison and jail population.
The war on crime launched two decades ago spawned a wave of tougher sentencing laws. This in turn triggered a steep surge in expenditures on prisons to accommodate the influx of offenders, even including nonviolent drug offenders and recidivists snared for minor crimes by the likes of California’s “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law. As a result, the nation’s prisons are overflowing with nonviolent felons who languish behind bars many years longer than are necessary to see the error of their ways and pay their debt to society. And state expenditures on corrections have climbed by 24 percent alone in the past five years.
Excessive incarceration saddles taxpayers and government with housing, feeding and guarding prisoners well beyond the point when there’s any point at all. Once they’ve done their time, many inmates emerge from incarceration bereft of jobs, housing, money and hope. This marks them from the outset as prime candidates for recidivism. Ironically, the pressure to curb corrections expenditures has spurred state and federal officials to embrace prisoner re-entry programs, such as family assistance, housing aid, mental health services, education services and, of course, job training.
These welcome initiatives beg the question, though, of whether ex-offenders actually will be able to land jobs. To be realistic, they rarely leap to the head of the applicant queue in the eyes of employers. When the labor market is very tight, some venturesome employers take a chance on ex-inmates as a last resort. But they’re the laudable exception, seldom the rule.
The travails of ex-offenders trying to find jobs ricochet all over society. They’re in a miserable position upon release to support themselves and fulfill any child support obligations. Unable to secure jobs, they cannot burnish their credentials as trustworthy workers. Idle except for the shadowy underground economy, many eventually revert to criminality because there’s little where else for them to fit.
A soundly conceived transitional jobs program could help steer motivated ex-offenders down a constructive path and better position them to persuade employers that they’re a safe bet. But where on earth, would the money to finance it come from?
The answer may lie right under government’s nose, namely in the massive appropriations for the corrections system. The wages and supervisory costs for a minimum wage public service job total considerably less than the per inmate cost of incarceration. Voila! Releasing carefully screened inmates several years early to participate in a well-run transitional employment program could get them back on track and plow savings back to the government in the bargain. The program we are aiming to open will do this. I know there are several programs in effect and operating, but I feel the need to have one that tailors to the screened ex-offender and then start re-education and vocational training in prison. We want to have partners in certain industry to hire a certificated skill worker. We will house this candidate for six months all the while we will work on life skills and other skills needed to cope with being back into the mainstream of life. We are serious about this passion because we are the very people we want to help.
Who would they work for? I envision the corrections department contracting with other government agencies, like the highway, public works and environmental protection departments, and with reputable nonprofit groups that can provide credible training and supervision.
What kind of work would they do? To minimize static from unions understandably protective of their jobs, the ex-offenders could perform tasks that government clearly cannot afford, as evidenced by the fact that the work goes undone for years on end. Clearing, grooming and maintaining unsightly mass transit rights of way, viaducts and waterfronts are visible examples of unattended public work. The higher profile the assignments, the more taxpayers will value the debt to society being paid by the ex-offenders via their work and see the payoff from early release employment programs.