Monday, April 15, 2019

It Bugs Me That Your Kid Is Hungry

A few years ago, I made a case for philanthropy as a form of consumerism. I buy things to solve problems that affect me, both here (e.g. I'm out of toothpaste) and there (e.g. your kid's hungry). It's not generosity, it's selfishness. It bothers me that your kid's hungry, like it bothers me to be out of toothpaste, so I buy relief for myself. Your kid enjoying her lasagna is just a bonus outcome.

Most of us stop shoveling snow at our neighbor's property line. But even the selfish must conceded the nagging truth that it's all the same snow; all one problem. The distinction of my problem/your problem is always arbitrary and abstract. If your neighbor's elderly or under the weather (or even able-bodied!), it wouldn't exactly be saintly to clear a path to their mailbox. It would just feel like doing a little more of the same.

"A little more of the same".

It holds up even in the aggregate. Let's say I burn through all my savings before I'm old (a distinct possibility). If it's because I was careless or stupid, I might feel awful living as an old man in a cramped secondhand RV eating instant ramen. But if that's my fate because I’d over-helped, that would be different.

Whenever my mind, in that sordid RV, scans for someone to blame, it will zero in not on shiftless, idiotic me, but on people out there somewhere enjoying a slightly easier/better life. And that seems...what's the word? Not "noble," not "heroic," but...prudent. A reasonable tradeoff no one could quarrel with. Tidy, fine, acceptable. When that mental image flashes, my mind will let go...and there's nothing sweeter than the sensation of a mind releasing its grasp. “Letting go” is the most rewarding framing (surrender, along with the related letting-gos of forgiveness and self-sacrifice, are the spiritual oldies-but-goodies, no matter how unappealing they might strike us modern aristocrats).

It's taken me a lifetime to recognize that unhappiness stems not from circumstance, but from perspective. Heaven and Hell are framings, both perpetually available in any given moment.

Housing, Parking Garages, and the Selfishness of Bill Gates
Philanthropy: The Factor of Time Urgency

Letting go is the most beautiful of framings.

1 comment:

Anonymous coward said...

To reinforce the idea that heaven/hell are just framings is people living off less than a dollar a day but still smiling and running.

"Jestina Koko, 25, with her five-year-old daughter, Satta Quaye, in Monrovia, Liberia. Crippled since the age of three, Jestina survives by doing laundry for others, selling cookies on the street, and begging. Both of them suffer from malaria. She wishes for a wheelchair, a private room to live in and for her daughter to go to school. © RenĂ©e C. Byer

She does it by documenting not just their lack of food, clean water and healthcare, but their smiles, too.

“If you were take that child out of that scene, that’s just like an everyday slice of life -- just running, smiling,” Byer said. " CBS News April 9, 2017, 10:48 AM

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