Giving is the new black?

So giving is the new black?  It’s a catchy line.  I saw it on pinterest, via the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, and I like it.  It’s kind of witty, and clever, and a bit of lighthearted fun.  But is it even vaguely true?  I’m not so sure.  Giving being the new black implies that it’s hip and happening and, basically, everyone is doing it.  So let’s check “Giving” out:

1. Traditionally, pretty much every community in the history of the world has given of their own (time, energy, resources) for the common good.  This might have been done in the form of waqf or tithes, or similar, through politico-religious structures, or might have been represented by the pulling together of community to build a fence, hunt a buck, plough a field, dig a well.  For the common good. And for community development.

2. Which begs the question: have we moved so far from traditional community and the ties that bind us together as community, and have we privatised resources and access to resources to such an extent that we now have to be persuaded to “give”? To contribute to the common good?

3. Well, simply, yes.  So be it.  So we have moved on.

4. And now we are all going to hover around the kid in the playground who has the sweets while he or she climbs to progressively higher ground to get away from the open and, likely, grabbing hands. Or else we are the kid with the sweets, who ends up not going out onto the playground at break time because we would rather sit quietly on our own, or with the other kids with sweets, and eat our sweets in peace. Or, when there are enough of us, we will find and block off our own area of the playground and pay (with a sweet) some sweet-less kids to guard our turf and keep the sweet-less out.

3. And so we make a choice (and apologies for my fatuous use of the playground analogy, but i am quite liking it – cos its all about value and power and how these are constructed). If we are the sweets-holder, we can remove ourselves and surround ourselves with barriers (of all kinds – colour, language, dress, geography, transport mode and other trappings) in the hope that the sweet-less can’t and don’t break through.  We can choose every now and again to drop a sweet or two over the barriers. We can get the sweet-less to do stuff for us, for a sweet or two. We can become more open and transparent about what sweets we have, what we are keeping, and what we are willing to share.  We can tell the sweet-less what they must do with the sweets we shared with them.

4. Or we can move out from behind our barriers, and engage directly with the sweet-less about the sweets that are being shared, and how we can best share them so that everyone benefits. Or …. or … we could hand over all our sweets in a structured way so that they are most widely shared with most people over the longest time.  Nah, that wont happen.

So here we are, the generally sweet-less trying to persuade those kids occupying the best part of the playground that they really should share some of their sweets with us.  Because sharing is caring?  Because it will be better for all of us, including the sweet-holders, if we all had sweets?  Yes, fewer for each of us, but each one has something.

Okay,  I have to stop now with the sweet thing.  Glycaemic index is peaking.  Let’s go back to the fundamentals of giving and why we are in a position where the disparity between the rich and the poor is so great, so wide, so apparently unbreachable.  And let’s give some thought to how we all want to “End Poverty Now”.  By asking those with lots of cash to share some of it.

The really suspect part here is that we are asking those people who have the cash – who made the cash by denying others sufficient income to constitute a living wage, who have accrued wealth by maintaining levels of socio-economic poverty – to share some of that accrued wealth to end the very poverty they were part of creating.

While we ponder that, though, and while we wonder how we are going to end poverty by persuading those living in wealth to share some of their accumulated wealth, lets wonder also how to end greed.  Lets think about how to end political greed, individual greed, corporate greed, community greed.

And then, in the meantime, let’s give anyway – give strategically, invest in social justice, contribute to effecting systemic change in ways that break down the systems of rampant accumulation.  Maybe giving is the new black.  And if it isn’t, perhaps it needs to be.


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