Opinion: Give or take?

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Giving Tuesday has now officially passed, although the requests for the “final” gift of the year continue to flow in. Private philanthropy is a good thing. People make direct and immediate choices about the world around them and decide how they are willing to donate their own labor to contribute to the cause. Instead of showing up hammer in hand to help raise the barn, most of us these days choose to spend the day at our own toil, whatever it may be, and forgo the benefit to ourselves and our families, and instead giving the fruit to some cause of our liking.

While it is important to follow laws regarding government revenue, one cannot claim a personal moral gold star if the tax collector eventually comes, gun in hand, to take from us the product of our labor. Conversely, there is honor to be had in working voluntarily for the benefit of others. We might contribute from excess, from gratitude, from a hope that others might care for us if we were in need, or from a genuine charity, agape. Whatever the motivation, we have worked so that some other — unable, unwilling or un-situated — does not. There is no exchange. There is little market. There is no expectation of interest paid.

Even so, as some give, others take. Many of us hold our philanthropy to include direct service on boards or in the soup kitchens of nonprofits, in addition to our financial contributions. So, we become both benefactor and beneficiary. What roles do — and should — we play? Is it right to expect gratitude from the takers? Is it right to expect gifts from the givers? Are there strings attached? Should there be? If Giving Tuesday is a mirror to Taking Tuesday, how do we make sure that doing the right thing is doing the right thing?   

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