LET'S TALK ABOUT GIVING.
Dear Ones —
I am blessed. I am over-blessed. I am beyond blessed. There are not enough fingers in the world upon which I could count my blessings. If you ever hear me complaining about anything in my life (ANYTHING at all) please fucking slap me.
Even before I was lucky enough to become financially successful, I was already over-blessed by life. Just the mere fact that I was born physically healthy is already enough to put me high on the global scale of LUCKY. To have grown up safe in a world of danger is another outrageous stroke of luck. But if you add to that all the love and friendship that I have known, and the education I was allowed to receive, and my political freedom, and the creativity I have been allowed to explore…well, like I said: over-blessed.
And so I try to give back.
I know that a lot of us try to give back, in so many ways.
Giving is a practice — an exercise of the soul — that can only be made stronger by more giving.
I remember once I commented to somebody how impressed I was with Oprah Winfrey's extraordinary generosity, and the person scoffed, and said, "Well, I could be generous, too, if I was a billionaire!"
That is a person who does not understand the meaning of the word "generous".
Generosity is a state of being. It is question of your spirit, not a question of your bank account. You're either a generous person, or you aren't. Some of the most generous people I've ever met were incredibly poor (at least financially — not in spirit.) Some of the richest people I've ever met were not generous in the least — in fact, they clutch to their resources in constant terror of scarcity.
I wanted to say to that person: "If you're waiting to become a billionaire before you become generous, I think you're missing the point."
But it's tricky, isn't it? I mean — it's hard to know where to put your generosity. The needs of the world are bottomless, and our resources are not bottomless, so sometimes it seems overwhelming. To give to one is not to give to another, and this can be heartbreaking.
Also, of course, you are almost certain to be criticized for how you give, or to whom — because the critics who walk among us are always so difficult to please. When Oprah started a school in Africa, she was attacked for not helping out closer to home. On the other hand, when Mark Zuckerberg tried to bail out the troubled school system of Newark, NJ, he was critifized for not thinking more globally. Even as Bill Gates is trying to find a cure for the worldwide Malaria epidemic, he is criticized for not helping the homeless of Seattle. When a woman in my own hometown started a club this year to help local teenage girls face down the problem of low self-esteem, she was criticized for not also helping boys.
If you give publicly, you are accused of making a show of yourself.
If you give privately, you are accused of not providing a good example to others.
What can you do?
YOU DO WHAT YOU CAN.
You do what stirs your heart, and what feels right to your soul.
No matter what our resources may be, I know that ALL OF US think about these questions:
What can I afford to give?
How can I share what I have?
Is it better to offer my time, or or money?
Local or global?
Environmental or social?
Animals or people?
The arts or education?
Children or the aged or women in need?
Refugees or homelessness?
Give it all to one organization, or spread it around?
Help your family, or help out strangers?
After years of thinking it over, and trying different techniques, here what I have settled on…which is the best I can do for now.
I divide my giving into these six categories:
I'll start from the bottom up on the list, to explain!
1) Whimsical: In all our worrying about the deep and dire problems of the world, we must not only focus on darkness and evil, or it will make us feel sick and defeated. Always leave a little room for support of the Whimsical, in defense of beauty and the humanities — for if there is not a bit of room in our imagination for whimsy, what is the point of life? For me, this year, that means supporting the restoration project of The Woodlands (the house I based Alma's home upon, for THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS). Here's some info on what I'm doing there: https://bit.ly/1DwwAjf)
2) Intimate: This is helping out the people whom you intimately know. Friends who are going through a hard time. Somebody whose child is having an expensive operation. Somebody who is going through a divorce and starting over. The family whose breadwinner just lost her job. For me, this is the most personal kind of giving, and sometimes the most rewarding — because you see on somebody' face how much they needed the help and the love. This is not only about money, but about your time, your comfort, your friendship.
3) Local: For me, this is the question of how to best help my town. I am not a church-goer myself, but I give money to our local church, because they are so good about helping out my neighbors in need. I might not know who is struggling nearby, but the church community knows. They know exactly who needs food, and who needs help with the oil bill, so I turn it all over to them to decide what is best.
4) Regional: In my area, I am most moved by this charity: Project HOME, of Philadelphia, which works tirelessly to support the most vulnerable population of The City of Brother Love. Sister Mary Scullion, the nun who runs the organization, is one of my life's heroes. (In fact, I was able to nominate her as one of TIME magazine's Most Influential People a few years ago, which was great.) I gave Project HOME all my earnings from Oprah's Life You Want Tour this year. Here is their website: https://ift.tt/13o7JxH
5) National: Planned Parenthood. Very few causes are more important to me than women's reproductive health and safety. I supported them back when I was a broke diner waitress, and I will support them forever.
6) International: This is very hard question. In a world so big, and so full of suffering, how can I help? I give to Doctors Without Borders and The Red Cross, and other relief organizations…but most of my money goes to the beautiful gentleman in the photo below: Dr. Rick Hodes. Dr. Hodes is a spinal surgeon who went to Africa almost twenty years ago on a brief "volunteer vacation" and never left. While he was there, he met an orphan who suffered from spinal tuberculosis — an awful disease of poverty that is barely known anymore in the western world. Dr. Hodes not only performed surgery on the boy, but adopted him. (And he has since adopted — I have lost count — over a dozen other children.) He spends his life fixing the most terrible spinal deformities imaginable in one of the most impoverished places on earth. I've been lucky enough to be able to pay for many of his patients to get their operations, and be able to walk and breathe and live again. Some of these young people had 90-degree curvatures of the spine, and now they are fixed. Does it save the entire world? No. But I cannot save the entire world. But I can help somebody who has had NONE of my advantages in life be able to walk again… and as for that? Well. There are no words for what that does to my heart.
I am so lucky to have so much to give. But I used to give what I could, even before I got so lucky. My mom set that example for me, and I am grateful.
I am so curious to hear how you all have solved the question of giving, in your lives…
Who are your generosity role models?
Who taught you how to give?
What have been your greatest moments of giving?
Where do you share yourself?
And what does the practice of giving offer to you?
Sending so much love this holiday season!
Count your blessing, dear ones. Count them on all your beautiful fingers…
About Rick Hodes
Rick Hodes is an American doctor who has lived and worked in Ethiopia for over 20 years. He is the Medical Director of Ethiopia for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), a 95-year…