When speaking of being charitable, there is a hint of ego normally infused, from which it is difficult to detach. When speaking of the person who donates to charity the image is often painted of one who has accomplished so much; they are not the meek. The charitable person has pulled themselves up by the bootstraps and is rarely if ever struggling. The charitable person is prudent and has been blessed; so much so, that they are able to share with others, who are not doing it right, who are not scrutinizing, who have not been blessed.
These issues are discussed in most major religions. We are urged to give. “It is better to give than it is to receive”, yet it is a tall order to give effectively to someone without that someone being there to receive it. That whole relationship is symbiotic in many ways. Religions dictate that when you give you receive blessings. It is also the case that your world is enriched when the people in it are more equally cared for, utilized and acknowledged.
In the Talmud, the concept of tzedakah refers to acts of charity. The concept, as I understand it, does not relate to the generosity of a wealthy man being kind enough to help the poor, rather it is a concept more closely related to justice or fairness. We are our brother’s keeper. If we have the means to help our brother, we are obligated to do so, since we do not own what we have, we are God’s caretaker of those possessions. Our possessions have been bestowed upon us to administer justly to those in need of them. There are many ways to administer these and the Talmud arranges the ways of giving in an order of least preferable to most preferable, they are:
1. To give, but not cheerfully and willingly.
2. To give less than you could, but what you do give, you have given cheerfully.
3. To give, but one must prompt you to do so.
4. To give, unprompted by another.
5. To give not knowing the recipient's identity, but the recipient knows your identity.
6. To give knowing the recipient's identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity.
7. To give and neither you nor the recipient knows the other's identity.
8. To give in a manner that enables the receiver to become self-reliant.
One of the four major rules in the Qur’an states, “Be prepared to show faith in deeds of charity and acts of kindness to your fellow man.” It’s funny as I think of it, all of this presupposes that the needy will be humble enough to accept help from the giver. These religious texts often talk about the great reward that will come to you, the giver, but what if the receiver refuses the gifts? If one subscribes to the wisdom of all of these ancient texts, they must also place some focus on the receiver and the humility involved in the act of receiving.
There is a belief in many religions that the act of giving releases a spiritual reward from God. This reward is revered such that the receiver is effectively doing the giver a favor, by accepting “charity”. The Hindu Indian monk, Swami Vivekananda once said, “Do not stand on a high pedestal and take 5 cents in your hand and say, "here, my poor man", but be grateful that the poor man is there, so by making a gift to him you are able to help yourself. It is not the receiver that is blessed, but it is the giver. Be thankful that you are allowed to exercise your power of benevolence and mercy in the world, and thus become pure and perfect.” Furthermore, it directs you to “give away whether you have faith in it (whether you believe you will receive reward for giving) or not”. When you give, do that with humility (without a superior feeling to others), even when you don’t trust, do give away!” - Taittiriya Upanishat I, 21The Upanishads too assert the previously stated “: "Everyone is only a trustee or custodian for the wealth lying with oneself (from God); he cannot enjoy all of it"- Ishavasya Upanishad, 1. The Bhagavadgita on the nobility of Dana IX 16, 26, humbles us to remember that “He who offers to Me even a fruit, a flower, a leaf or the least a drop of water accompanied with humility, Arjuna! I shall accept that as it is accompanied with pure devotion. I am not desirous of those who are of lavish nature only to show off their wealth which in reality Myself has given to them.” – we are stewards, not owners.
I do have a more cosmic, or spiritual connection to this as well. Similar to the Benedictine’s beliefs, the Jewish religion and many other faiths and practices, I believe that I am only a steward of what I have. My battle is to find the right way to utilize it. It is a scary thought and places a lot of pressure on the potential giver. Pressure to find their lagom and release the remainder.