Guilt-Free Giving

The other day I took one of my rare trips to the bottom of the pile of paper on my desk. As I sorted through documents, and my recycle bin filled up, I observed two distinct categories of discards. One was junk mail. The other was charities soliciting donations.

I had no qualms, of course, about pitching the pizza flyers or scrapping the brochures from roofing companies. But what’s absurd is the twinge of guilt I felt for every envelope I tossed that happened to have a return address with the word “foundation” in it. As I rejected one appeal after the other, I felt contrite.

The reason it’s absurd is that no one could be reasonably expected to donate to every charitable cause that comes asking around this time of year. In that one afternoon I reviewed requests from a poverty relief agency, a disability support organization, three hospital foundations (including one for sick kids – what kind of brute am I to say no to sick kids?), an emergency information service, even my own alma mater. All very good causes, certainly.

I’ve already made at least six donations to non-profit groups in this month alone. And I’m not independently wealthy – not yet, anyway. So why, then, did I feel like a heel as I fed all these entreaties straight into my blue box?

Maybe it’s like my neighbour’s mom said to me later that same day. We were discussing the fact that most of the people we know truly want to be helpful to others. “We probably should do more, though,” she remarked. This while she was already going out of her way to drive my daughter and me to the subway station so we wouldn’t have to shiver at the bus stop (her idea). So why was she, like the rest of us, being so hard on herself?

We have to learn to let go of the guilt. I don’t think anyone should feel inadequate just because you aren’t walking in Mother Teresa’s sandals. Most of the time you’re doing the best you can. And if it so happens that you choose a spa day instead of spending your last forty bucks to help sick kids, you probably shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. For one thing, you won’t enjoy your spa day half as much.

Do you agree? Do you think we should feel better about the good that we do, and stop feeling so guilty for the good that we don’t?

5 responses to “Guilt-Free Giving

  1. I agree totally Lisa,

    We all ALWAYS feel like we are not doing enough. But it goes beyond doing good deeds for charitable organizations – how about the guilt we feel for not doing enough for our kids or parents?

    But the benefit we receive from taking 5 (by doing things like reading our email for instance) for ourselves benefits those around us too. The question is just how to know when the scale is in balance!

    I think that’s one we’ll have to work on!

  2. You’re absolutely right, Leisa. And I think sometimes we need to take not just 5, but more like 55, for ourselves. It certainly makes us a better mom, daughter, worker, etc. (I think if we can learn to convince ourselves of this, we’re halfway there!)

  3. After learning how much goes on admin fees, I’m really reluctant to support a lot of charities and I refuse to support any phone charity at all. I am going back to church sponsored charities like the Salvation Army and the United Church Mission & Service Fund and Food Banks for my donations, at least people in need will benefit.

  4. Great article, Lisa. I go to the spa and like to have nice things, and desperately crave alone time for me — such as my compressed day, which is today!
    I do volunteer work too, as well as work full time. But sometimes people will still make comments about my diva lifestyle — which is hurtful. Why can’t I have both — enjoy certain luxuries that a good income brings, and be a “goddess of advocacy” for people with disabilities? Why do I feel like I have to explain myself?

  5. Thanks, Mary. I think you CAN do both, and you certainly aren’t obliged to explain yourself. We have to let ourselves off the hook. I’m guessing that you’re humble about the giving/volunteering that you do, and therefore not everyone knows about your charitable contributions – they just see you on your way to the spa. (And maybe they wish they were going too, hence the snide remarks!)

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