Giving and Volunteerism, Charity or an Expensive form of Entertainment? – Law of Reciprocity in action in the Blogosphere


Maimonides  -public domain

Maimonides                                                                                                   -public domain

One of the joys of blogging, a rare joy around here, is receiving the accolades of ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ from your readers, the problem comes when a ‘like’ or a ‘follow’ seems to come from someone who might be either a sincere and interested reader or someone phishing for recruits into a multi-level marketing scheme – hard to tell which sometimes – we seem to have had both types today.  In particular we had that situation come up this morning over at the other blog.

It is considered good blog etiquette to stop by and visit the blog of someone new who has decided to undertake the formality of voluntarily subscribing to be pestered electronically by your blog – the Law of Reciprocity in practice.  There’s a URL for that now, who knew?   I followed the follower’s profile back to the KarenEllisBlog to see who my visitor was, find out what they are up to and see if they have anything interesting to say.  When I got there I found a great deal of information hidden by hind menu tabs about:  how to “Explode your blog with income”, her business, and all about her.  Fine, but I’m not interested in signing up for any newsletters.  I also found her, then, most recent blog article: Tipping Servers $200, Wouldn’t that feel great to do?.  Sounds interesting.

The Joy of seeing someone’s
face when you reward them, is immeasurable.

Many times we are stuck in a rut
and can’t see clear to
give freely.

Sometimes Giving doesn’t have to come
in the form of Money, but time.
You can give the give of listening, doing
such as reading to children, adults who
need help in that basic form of communication.

~Karen Ellis Blog

Wedged between those two paragraphs was the following YouTube video by LAHWF:

Tipping your server $200

[appologies, we’re too cheap around here for the embedded video upgrade]

Karen’s blog article continued on in the vein of different the many different forms that volunteerism can take.  Fine.  Dandy.

Atani left the following comment, without having undertaken the formality of actually watching the video:

I love the concept of volunteerism as social-service – really great!  I’ve given a lot of my personal time to a community food reclamation project out in Las Vegas called “Project Angel Faces [small plug here] one lady herding a bunch of angels with Facebook and Twitter to feed people in her area with food that would otherwise fall to the ground and rot. I’m also a very minor editor on Wikipedia. I also have a rare blood type and donate regularly.
I’m not too sure about the concept of tipping your server $200, helpful no doubt, but is it also a rather expensive form of entertainment? Doesn’t seem to be particularly sustainable either, unless you are quite wealthy. I prefer to tip everybody 20%. This practice also brings up the question of Service vs Charity – both ancient and noble practices.There are what I like to call three pillars that are necessary to hold up a community project or a society: your Time, your Talent, and your Treasure – all three are necessary. Depending on your situation it may be more one “Tee” than another, but all three are necessary. As I say on my Wikipedia User Page:“With use comes the responsibility to contribute.”
~ A.

This got the Meme Merchants to thinking about the nature of charity, volunteerism, and giving.  We went back and watched the video, to find out what was really going on with it.

What I saw there more or less what Atani had suspected, motivated as much by a desire for the vicarious thrill of the capturing the moment of receipt as anything else. Not to condemn these acts of giving, they were as acts fine in their own way, well enough intended, and to all appearances were really going to do some good in the world.  However, I was rather bothered by the YouTube video’s basic attitude about what they were trying to accomplish.  The two presenters attitude was pretty well summed up in their opening statement, “We’re just going around tipping servers $200 and seeing what happens.”  This is giving of one sort, what it is not, and apparently doesn’t even attempt to be, is charity.  Giving as an expensive form of reality entertainment.  $200 a thrill.  I’m not sure if I like that very much.

I was reminded by all of this of a story I heard many years ago about a Jewish sage who would walk through the streets and drop coins over his shoulder and let them roll down his hood to be picked up by what ever person might need them.  This story was supposed to demonstrate one of the higher levels of giving in Jewish culture.  With that thought in mind I started interrogating the usual sources.

First stop for me on all subjects Judaical, for me the non-Jew, Judaism 101 and their article on Tzedakah  the Jewish concept of the social obligation for giving:

“Tzedakah” is the Hebrew word for the acts that we call “charity” in English: giving aid, assistance and money to the poor and needy or to other worthy causes.

Nice.  They go on to say:

However, the nature of tzedakah is very different from the idea of charity. The word “charity” suggests benevolence and generosity, a magnanimous act by the wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the poor and needy.

Kind of wrong in my opinion.  To set the record straight, the word “charity” comes through the Old French from the Latin: caritas, from carus meaning ‘dear.’ and originally used in the the Anglo-Saxon in the sense of the Christian love ‘agape’ of one’s fellows.  Not to get into an argument on the subject, but the Christian concept of charity is actually very similar to the Jewish, it’s where Christiains got the concept from in the first place after all.  In my opinion the real confusion sets in, and this is an understandable mistake for a Jewish person to make, maybe, about goyish culture, because of how much of Christian religion, theology, and culture has been affected or contaminated by the often rather slope-browed-retro-troglodyte and archaic pagan cultures that adopted Christianity, but were not yet up to the task as societies of really living up to their own rather high ideals.  Unfortunate.

The type of patronistic benevolence and giving, as JewFAQ point out, that of the warrior prince, that characterizes most pre-modern, pre-open order societies, where there is always some type of quid pro quo tied to the gift, is fairly precisely not Christian as it is not Jewish.  This zero-sum, honor-shame manifestation of giving is characteristic of prime divider societies who are still in the “closed order” or so called  “natural state”.  More on this later.

Judaism 101 lists eight different levels of spiritual and social sophistication in giving, from low to high:

  1. Giving begrudgingly
  2. Giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully.
  3. Giving after being asked
  4. Giving before being asked
  5. Giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity
  6. Giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity
  7. Giving when neither party knows the other’s identity
  8. Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant

That seems to jive closely with what I remember being told, by the person who recounted the parable of the sage’s hood.   Still, I wanted to at least check the Wikipedia article to see if there were any references for that information.

As it turns out the Wikipedia article on Tzedakah list the 12th century Sephardic philosopher Maimonides Eight Levels of Giving as written in the  Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot matanot aniyim (“Laws about Giving to Poor People”), Chapter 10:7-14:

  1. Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.
  2. Giving tzedakah anonymously to an unknown recipient via a person (or public fund) which is trustworthy, wise, and can perform acts of tzedakah with your money in a most impeccable fashion.
  3. Giving tzedakah anonymously to a known recipient.
  4. Giving tzedakah publicly to an unknown recipient.
  5. Giving tzedakah before being asked.
  6. Giving adequately after being asked.
  7. Giving willingly, but inadequately.
  8. Giving “in sadness” (giving out of pity): It is thought that Maimonides was referring to giving because of the sad feelings one might have in seeing people in need (as opposed to giving because it is a religious obligation). Other translations say “Giving unwillingly.”

Not bad, but it seems a little awkwardly put, at least I know now where to start looking.  I found a version of the story at Orthodox Union’s page on Judaism’s Social Vision, which at least as a non-Jew, I found very informative, and also contained a reference to to the source of the parable I had been told years before: Maimonides.

Othodox Union presents Maimonides’ eight degrees of charity as follows, [emphasis mine]:

There are eight degrees of charity, one higher than the other.

The highest degree, exceeded by none, is that of one who assists a poor person by providing him with a gift or a loan or by accepting him into a business partnership or by helping him find employment – in a word by putting him in a situation where he can dispense with other people’s aid. With reference to such aid it is said, ‘You shall strengthen him, be he a stranger or a settler, he shall live with you’ (Lev. 25: 35), which means: strengthen him in such a manner that his falling into want is prevented.

A step below this is the one who gives alms to the needy in such a way that the giver does not know to whom he gives and the recipient does not know from whom he takes. This exemplifies doing a good deed for its own sake. One example was the Hall of Secrecy in the Temple, where the righteous would place their gift clandestinely and where poor people from noble families could come and secretly help themselves to aid. Close to this is dropping money in a charity box…

One step lower is where the giver knows to whom he gives, but the poor person does not know from whom he receives. Thus the great sages would go and secretly put money into poor people’s doorways…

A step lower is the case where the poor person knows from whom he is taking, but the giver does not known to whom he is giving. Thus the great sages would tie coins in their scarves, which they would fling over their shoulders, so that the poor could help themselves without suffering shame.

Lower than this, is where someone gives the poor person a gift before he asks.

Lower still is one who gives only after the poor person asks.

Lower than this is one who gives less than is fitting, but does so with a friendly countenance.

The lowest level is one who gives ungraciously. (Mattenot Ani’im 10: 7-14)

Much, much better.  If one is to take Maimonides as one’s example, it is clear that charitable giving is that type of charity that places the needs of the needy first, discounts steeply the rewards to the giver by take strict measures to separate the ego of the charitable from the act of charity as much as is possible.  The needs of the needy are best met when preserved from the need for charity, and the charitable are best preserved by separating their egoic-selves from the act of giving.  Very advanced concept – hard to do.

I guess that leaves our boys at LAHWF and us all some room for improvement.

~ Visin

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4 thoughts on “Giving and Volunteerism, Charity or an Expensive form of Entertainment? – Law of Reciprocity in action in the Blogosphere

  1. My sincere apologies. I never meant to offend anyone. I am a newbie to the Technical side of things, and obviously I added a plug in or something. I also hired someone to put that together for me, but I will take full responsibility for it.
    I will remove right now.
    Sincerest apologies.

    • I painted Orphanage classrooms in Phuket Thailand. My colleagues and I were learning about GIVING of our time with nothing expected back.
      With that, when or if I endorse or promote something it is to be helpful. Helping someone else find the way to feel empowered and fulfilled within the community of our world.
      We give back, unconditionally. In money or time or both.
      All the best, K

      • Well done, doing the real work. That’s really great. Then you will really have understood this essay, which has to do with sorting the difference between ‘giving’ in the broader sense and charity in the narrower sense.

        BTW: you can find Project AngelFaces on FaceBook if you look. Rhonda K. is the lady you want to talk to.

    • Not to worry. No one here was offended by anything you wrote.

      We do things a little differently around here.

      If you are referring to the little pop-up message box on your blog, that was curious but not offensive. That was the only reason I dug behind your other menus, to see what was there. Still didn’t keep me from enjoying your blog. You seem like a real person It was the other guy with the, ‘I earned $10k in one month and quit college,” that I was really wondering about. But even then, you can’t tell without more information. The people who manage to make it through here seem to come from very different spaces and places. What comes attached to their Gravatar might not not necessarily reflect the persona they are bringing here.

      Please feel welcome to come back any time.

      Atani and all of the other Meme Merchants,

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