The Salvation Army Bell Ringers are now audibly calling us to seasonal charitable giving. But the pleas from multiple organizations for our benevolence—from both unprecedented terrorist attacks and natural disasters to the ever-present needs of our less fortunate neighbors—have been virtually ongoing since 9/11.
However, amidst all the research about how much Americans give and who needs what the most, and the gloom and doom rhetoric of so-called donor fatigue, it is appropriate to appreciate another principle as important as charity–freedom. Apart from any “shoulds” and “oughts,” we may first give thanks that whatever resources we have—including time, goods, and financial ones—are ours to give freely. (The IRS variable is ever-present, so it’s not ALL ours to give, but there is some.)
And notwithstanding the accusatory finger pointing of “social philanthropy” advocates those with little or generous means are on a level decision making playing field: they have the freedom to give to those individuals, causes, and communities, even in countries of their choosing.
In review of unprecedented disasters spanning September 11 to the 2005 hurricane season, a Washington Post headline blazed “Some disasters compel us to give: Americans reach for their wallets.” And frankly, nowhere else on the planet do human beings seem so compelled to give and give so generously as Americans. Congressional attention to the Katrina Tax Relief Act, the C.A.R.E. Act and the recent late night passage of the Budget Reconciliation Bill all attempt to encourage us to give even more to charity.
Tocqueville is among the legion who have articulated this unique, overwhelming American response to needs of fellow human beings. And now ‘tis the season to not just give thanks for the resources that we have but more importantly the freedom that we have to use those resources.
Only in a free society is the true dignity of each human person underscored. Free to earn and free to give. And even the decision about what is “good charity” vs. “bad charity” is a reflection of a society that gives us freedom to have and then to exercise those values. End-of-year giving should cause us to reflect on July 4th as well.