So many different interpretations of one of the basic principles of all religions. To some it is the payment of money to organizations that do ‘good’ works, and getting a receipt for tax deduction purposes. To others it is actually working with these organizations and ‘doing good’ for as many people as possible. Others still feel they have to work directly with those in need to feel that their ‘charity’ is reaching its targeted group. The definitions as per the Oxford dictionary are as follow:
noun (plural charities)
1 an organization set up to provide help and raise money for those in need:
the charity provides practical help for homeless people
[mass noun] the body of organizations viewed collectively as the object of fundraising or of donations:
the proceeds of the sale will go to charity
2 [mass noun] the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need:
the care of the poor must not be left to private charity
help or money given to those in need:
an unemployed teacher living on charity
3 [mass noun] kindness and tolerance in judging others:
she found it hard to look on her mother with much charity
archaic love of humankind, typically in a Christian context:
faith, hope, and charity
Unfortunately, we have reached the point where charity is pinpointed in the first two meaning points. What about the third? What about charity meaning kindness and tolerance in judging others? Where is that in the scheme of things? Where is tolerance in our lives, where is kindness?
If we want to have hope in a better future we should start with tolerance. When I was young I was a very impatient person. The one thing I could not tolerate was what I perceived as stupidity. With age and experience, my perception changed. These people I thought of as stupid were just never given the opportunity to learn how to develop their cognitive abilities. In their own ‘raw’ or ‘rough’ state they were quite intelligent. So in growing up, with more experience, I have become more tolerant. But I still have my hang ups, I am just a work in progress where tolerance is concerned. I still cannot tolerate cruelty in any shape or form, but especially cruelty to animals, to children, to the defenseless. Also the deliberate cruelty of people hurting each other’s feelings by words or acts.
In some instances tolerance could be misunderstood. Tolerance of generally provocative acts could be looked upon askance, but in reality it is a deeper understanding of the fragility of human beings under pressure and circumstance. Unfortunately such tolerance is not appreciated by the majority that sees such behavior should be strictly discouraged by punishment. A point in fact is the burning of the Egyptian flag a couple of days ago. A huge debate took place between those who were intolerant of such an act. But a few voices were tolerant of such an act because they saw beyond the act and went further to the motivation behind the act and the circumstances that have brought the feelings that result in such an act. Here tolerance is on the borderline and could easily be misconstrued. With feelings running high, such tolerance might be harmful to the tolerating party. In such a case it might be described by far uglier words than tolerance. It is though, tolerance but of the wrong act at the wrong time. It is a deeper perception of human fragility than the norm, which puts its holder at peril of being misunderstood and attacked.
Kindness, the second description of charity, is something that is usually looked upon with favor. But kindness is such an illusive act. The very basic act of human kindness is very simple and paradoxically, very complex. A simple act of kindness is helping someone who is struggling, without asking for help. It is voluntary and motivated purely unselfishly. A simple act of kindness is usually an impulsive, generous act, originating from a basic goodness of the originator of that act. Stretching your hand to help someone up who had stumbled and fell. Helping someone lift a heavy load. Taking the hand of a child or an elderly person to help them cross a busy street. Wiping the nose of a child or feeding an invalid. All such little acts are really great acts, they are acts of basic kindness. Other acts of kindness are more complex. Choice and thought go into such acts. Sometimes these acts are misconstrued, or can even backfire and, depending on circumstances, might turn out to be not so kind after all. Though the motivation is pure, the judgement behind it might not be quite right. Like hiding the fact of a cheating spouse from their partner. Or in parallel, telling on a cheating spouse. Like hiding someone’s illness from his/her family, or telling them. These are all moral decisions of magnitude that could eventually turn out to be a great kindness or a great cruelty that causes much harm.
Charity, in the religious sense is regulated where the two first definitions are concerned, but where the third is, religions have given 90% of their effort to explaining it to human beings, and we still have difficulty understanding it thoroughly, let alone practicing it properly.