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Charity Versus True Sharing and Giving

It took me quite a while in this world to see the subtle differences between charity and actual sharing and giving. Charity involves one entity keeping all the wealth and power, and giving metered allowances to those they control. Sharing involves equal access to resources and equal access to power. Giving involves relinquishment of control of property to another. Charity is controlling and paternalistic, while Sharing and Giving involve empowerment. Charity is a very different species than Sharing and Giving. This subtle difference is played out in so many ways it is astounding, from our “charity� in Iraq, where we want total control yet try to play ourselves off as merciful, selfless, “givers,� to Christian soup kitchens that hold food from they hungry until the hungry proclaim allegiance to a mythic white god from the Middle East. People need to ask themselves whether a situation involves actual sharing or giving, or whether it is manipulative “charity,� at every turn in the road.
Charity Versus True Sharing and Giving
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)

It took me quite a while in this world to see the subtle differences between charity and actual sharing and giving. Charity involves one entity keeping all the wealth and power, and giving metered allowances to those they control. Sharing involves equal access to resources and equal access to power. Giving involves relinquishment of control of property to another. Charity is controlling and paternalistic, while Sharing and Giving involve empowerment. Charity is a very different species than Sharing and Giving. This subtle difference is played out in so many ways it is astounding, from our “charity� in Iraq, where we want total control yet try to play ourselves off as merciful, selfless, “givers,� to Christian soup kitchens that hold food from they hungry until the hungry proclaim allegiance to a mythic white god from the Middle East. People need to ask themselves whether a situation involves actual sharing or giving, or whether it is manipulative “charity,� at every turn in the road.

I first figured this out in my twenties in a bad relationship. Although I worked, and although my boyfriend was supposedly “conscious,� he wanted me to give him all my pay every month, and then he would pay for all our expenses, and I would be taken care of. At the face of it, it seemed fine. I did not care who paid the bills, as long as they got paid. But then I noticed subtleties in that arrangement. I noticed he adamantly did *not* want me to get my own car, yet he complained often about needing to give me rides to places like the laundromat to do *his* laundry or to the grocery store to get *his* food, as well as ours. I found myself waiting, held hostage, for hours often, waiting for him to show up to give me a ride to go wash diapers, or get food to prepare dinner. I finally took some of my money and bought a cheap Dodge Dart (that ran for years) for $400. He was furious. Even though he got very angry at me all the time about having to drive me places, he got even more angry when I drove myself. Now that was telling. What did that mean? I was in a Catch-22. He also reacted strongly when I began to attend community college. When I got good grades, his response was, “Well, wait until you are in a *real* college.� When I did well in a *real* 4 year university, and said I was going to law school, he said, “Well, let’s wait to see the acceptance letters before we change any plans.� Then I got into law school, and after years together, we broke up. He was very threatened by the schooling track I was on. I realized this had to do with *power* and nothing else. And I began to realize that he was pretending he was giving me all these things, as a man, as a provider, but without him, I got the same things, without the headache wrestling for power over my life. And the reason school and a car freaked him out so much is it reduced my dependence upon him.

After seeing that in my personal life, I began to realize it is quite common to pretend you are sharing or giving, when really you are maintaining all control via “charity.� In contract law, there is a thing called “consideration.� Every legally binding contract must have three basic parts: an offer, “consideration,� and acceptance. Law suits argue about whether an offer was really made, such as two guys make a deal drunk in a bar, one guy acts on it, the other denies he made the offer, but the one guy relied on the offer and now had damages if the offer did not stand, so they go to court arguing over the offer. There is also the same type of scenario over acceptance, over what constitutes the acceptance of the offer to a level that is legally binding, in instances where the lines are not so clear. But “consideration� is a legal concept that says you *must* give something in return for getting something in contracts, or else it is not contract law. Instead it then moves to property law, as a gift or inheritance. You may have seen interactions where $1 is exchanged in what seems like a token payment, at best. Often that $1 is being used as “consideration� to earmark the transaction as a contract, not a gift. “Consideration� is what someone gives up to get the contracted good. It can be money, it can be labor, it can be a choice, it cannot be a right. For instance, you cannot give up your Constitutional Rights for consideration in a contract. That will not stand as legal. But you can give up choices. A classic case of this is when a mistress is paid not to tell about an affair. The contract is for her not to tell. Her consideration is she does not tell, for the consideration of money the other pays her. If she breaks the consideration agreement, and tells, then the one who made the offer did not get what he bargained for, and can sue for breach for his money back.

One way to tell if something is charity or sharing, in my opinion, is to inspect the situation for “consideration.� If there is consideration present, it is most probably a manipulative, paternalistic, or “power over� situation, rather than an empowering and dignified situation. I noticed, for instance, that law students wanted to pad their resume and consciences with “charity� work for the poor, but they did not want to actually have those people in their law schools next to them, much less in their neighborhoods! My law school’s Women’s Law Association gave a yearly basket of food to a needy family every Thanksgiving in Los Angeles. And they had a stack of photo albums full of pictures of this yearly invasion of a poor person’s home for photo shoots of the rich kids giving the poor some food. In that case, the poor exchange humiliating pictures of themselves and feigned pleasantries in their home, for food. The law students trade food for the photo opp and the volunteer work on their resume. Consideration was exchanged, it was not sharing or a gift, it was “charity.� If they just gave the food to the people, with no strings attached, that would have no consideration, and would be sharing or a gift.

Additionally, I found it ironic as hell that my law school was championing a program for “children’s rights,� and went into the very same child protection institution I was kept in as a child, yet these same law students acted like my poverty was a disease they might catch if they got too close to me and my old Dodge Dart. I often joked that an alarm went off when I drove my Dart into the posh neighborhood full of large, gated estates surrounding my law school. Here I was, probably the *only* law student there to have ever pulled herself up by her bootstraps, so to speak, from abandoned kid lost in the system, through poverty, to become a law student there, with no family, no support, no money, just a strong brain and willingness to work my ass off. And I was treated poorly in classrooms. I actually went to the Dean of Student Affairs once and complained to her. She was a wise black woman full of strength and compassion. I said, “This probably sounds really weird, but I feel I am suffering from class discrimination here. The professors will not call on me when I raise my hand, yet call on the rich white boy 5 times in one class. The students act like I have some disease they could catch. They will not talk to me, or study with me…� She said, “Welcome to the black law student experience!� Even though I am white, she said that my poverty was bringing on something that resembled what she had to deal with in law school being black. She told me the way to handle it was to stick to my guns, work my ass off, get good grades, and walk alone with head held high. I began to see that I was there to honestly do the work, where many of the law students were there for their parents, or to impress people with power, or social status. I challenged the law students I met to learn how to *empower the poor themselves, rather than speak for them* but that idea was not met openly. It became clear to me that these law students wanted to speak *for* the poor, slumming it a day or two, here or there, for their own conscience, but they had no interest in sharing their educational resources with the poor to teach them how to advocate for themselves or to help lift them out of poverty into the ranks of the privileged.

When you give money to the poor, are you giving it with a string attached? Are you really contracting with the poor, that they relieve your guilty conscience as consideration, in exchange for your extra food? Are you controlling more than your share to “give it back� with strings later? I still think the best way to assess the genuineness of someone’s intent, when it comes to the poor, is to evaluate the interaction for consideration. What do the poor have to do for the resources? Would it meet the legal bar for consideration? If so, the poor are actually contracting for their “free� meals. They are not free. Please, look for consideration in your transactions with the poor. And start supporting empowering sharing and actual giving, rather than controlling and paternalistic “charity.�
 
 


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