Doing Good

Public gestures, private moments and the art of giving

Posted Oct 24, 2013

Doing good is not always about community effort, social conscience, charitable contributions or public demonstration. Baking cakes for cancer, volunteering at a school, teaching arts to underserved populations or marching for the cause are commendable. However there are other options.    

When I was a child, my family marched for Martin Luther King. I was encouraged to donate the $9 and $11 from my backyard fairs to Head Start and The Starving Children of Biafra. For sure, I had a good feeling about doing so, and it was written up in the local paper. But generous acts can be charitable without being public.

Some people who do not volunteer may be judged as uncaring or remote. If you are anxious and avoidant, self-conscious in groups or can’t serve pizza at your child’s school because of work, you may feel badly.

There are other ways.

“ From each according to his ability.”

“If a man cannot keep pace with his companions, let him step to the music he hears however measured of far away.” (Thoreau)

What about private acts of kindness? Doing good can involve a something quiet or small that benefits a person in your midst. Leave a big tip, babysit a neighbor’s kids, buy groceries for a friend, take an older person’s hand to cross the street or just listen to someone who is having a hard time. Maybe you two are the only ones who will ever know about it and that is ok.

Not doing what you needed to do that day to make it easier for a troubled someone, may be your way of giving.   

Generosity can be a sudden act based on a spontaneous impulse.

I just saw on the news that a police officer bought a woman $100 worth of groceries after giving her a citation for shoplifting $300 worth.  “Pay it forward,” she told her. This, of course, was publicized and very nice to learn of but was obviously not done for credit. My husband Alton always is touched by those “who do it when no one is looking.” 

“Virtue is it’s own reward.”

I sometimes wonder about the calculated nature of resumes packed with community service experience. Then again contributions make a difference, even those not imbued with sincere feeling.`

Now and again a person’s banner waving pride about her magnanimous gesture can have an “all about me” quality but if it serves, so be it.    

Your work: domestic, professional or artistic, offers do-good options. A painting might instill a feeling of possibility in a viewer.  A ferry operator who forgives the forgotten ticket or a nurse who ministers with grace even if she does not feel she can muster one more time act with integrity. You can make dinner at home for people who are alone or lonely.

Some forms of giving are concrete and others involve a way of interacting.  

My friend has worked for Habitat for Humanity for many years and she travels all over with her hammer and overalls. This is right and natural for her. However, service does not have to involve need in far away places.

Know your giving style so you can give fully. This can be your “art,” your creative expression, your improvised moment.

My sixth grader came home last week and asked me to donate money, razors, Capri-Suns and shampoo to the eighth grade’s Midnight Run.  Her statement was refreshing; more heart-warming and interesting than, say more typical household fare such as,  “He got more Orangina!”