Paradoxes of Giving

I’ve pondered for a while the psychological paradox that democrats give less to charity than republicans, that those who eat environmentally friendly food are similarly ungenerous, on average.

I’ve not written about this issue before, because it’s so easy to be judgmental about it … Those goody two shoes people aren’t so good after all…

However the basic issue here is something else: it seems each of us has a baseline: this is how much we will give. Some give more, some less, but changing a habit in this regard will only detract from giving in some other way.

One of my friends is very environmentally conscious, despite being a poor college student. I felt very uncomfortable telling him I had just bought the iPad on which I’m typing this. I felt I had good reason, but nothing undid the fact that I’d just bought another electric appliance that uses rare natural resources.

I’m not suggesting that he should not have judged me, or that I should have refrained from buying this thing. It’s about the process of judging itself…

It’s the judging and labeling that turns a simple purchase into an ethical dilemma, which of course it is. However, it’s also judging that limits our generosity because we’ve done good in other area’s of our lives.

So how do we get out of this paradox?

The answer may be loving kindness meditation practice: it may be able to help us stop the labeling, of ourselves and others. And if the labels are gone, or less strong, we may be able to give ‘more’, or if we don’t, at least stop beating ourselves and others up about it.

[all this as a response to ‘Beyond Happiness: The Zen Way to True Contentment’ a book I’m reviewing]

5 thoughts on “Paradoxes of Giving”

  1. Like this one;
    ” Love knows no reasons, Love knows no lies. Love defies all reasons, Love has no eyes. But love is not blind, Love sees but doesn’t mind. ” ~ Author unknown

    As long that State is not at hand.. identity will always be frustrated in one of many forms. (i guess)

  2. Hi Katinka: Interesting post as always, but you should beware of social science research. having done some research myself, I’m very aware of how easily one can design an experiment to prove a particular point.

    It turns out that the reason that conservatives were assessed as being more giving is that the researchers included donating to one’s church as an equal measure of giving as donating to a charity or non-profit like Greenpeace. If you correct for that, it then turns out that liberals and conservatives are equally generous.

    But it goes further – it turns out, as far as I understand the research, that volunteering time for working in a progressive organization was placed on the same scale as spending time at a bake sale. if you correct for that (which I think is legitimate, others may not) it turns out that there is just no comparison. Overwhelming, people on the liberal, progressive side of the spectrum give more money and volunteer more of their time to all kinds of public needs than conservatives. Suddenly, the counter-intuitive conclusion of fthe research becomes completely understandable. Doesn’t this fit your sense of the people you know who are progressives vs conservatives? I imagine if you subtract missionary and evangelical work – which seems to me more to involving placing a burden on others rather than giving to them or helping them, you start to have a hard time finding conservatives who are generous or giving at all. Not that there aren’t any; just that the longer you believe that government shouldn’t help anybody, and that sharing is bad, and that we all best look out for ourselves (and those who belong to our church)- well, if that’s the philosophy of your peers, it’s not too surprising that it’s going to lead to some un-generous behavior. As a long time New Yorker who spent the last 9 years in one of the Reddest of Red States, in one of the most conservative counties of that state (Greenville County) the above fits my sense of much )not all of course) of what goes on there.

  3. The Garden of Eden story says something similar. God told Adam and Eve they could eat of any fruit in the garden, but not from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

    It seems likely to me the warning was given because God knew that the ability to judge along the good-evil dimension would destroy them.

    Like babies, they weren’t evil, just undeveloped. While unknowing, the connection with their source of Life was in no danger. But once their “eyes were opened” they understood the gap between God and themselves; and that gap separated them from their Life, showing them up as “less good” and teaching them shame for the first time.

    The important thing to note is that it wasn’t disobedience that caused the fall, but eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

    The usual understanding is we must choose between “good” and “bad”. However, even choosing good is futile, already too late. It is the awareness of the distinction, the act of deciding itself, that is the problem.

    As you say, the labelling is unhelpful. Of course, you assume that giving is good and more giving is better; which is itself a ‘rule’ derived purely from our knowledge of good and evil! 😉

    1. Of course the problem with that reasoning is that it’s ‘wrong’ to ‘judge’, which is itself a form of reasoning.

      Personally I think that the best balance is, at least for me where I am right now, to be aware of the labeling and the paradoxes involved.

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