This holiday, give until it stops hurting

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 28, 2001

We have all made it through Thanksgiving. Turkeys have been hashed and sandwiched away. Stale pies have disappeared down garbage disposals, either mechanical or canine. The relatives have gone home. Pilgrim hats have been stored for another year to make room for the Santa hats, icicle lights and life-size manger scenes are coming down from the attic. For now &uot;'Tis the season.&uot;

Yes, Christmas is upon us, and it is time for us to start the giving cycle. You know that round robin wherein we give money to shop owners who give merchandise to us. We give the merchandise to friends and family who give us merchandise in return. We all then in a year or so give that merchandise to Goodwill, The Salvation Army or to others like ourselves who give us money at our yard sales. Some of us even re-gift the merchandise we receive from friends and family, thus leaving the shop owner out of the loop. But even at that, the cycle continues.

We in America are said to be a giving people. You remember the fund-raiser slogan, &uot;Give till it hurts.&uot; We as a nation take pride in our global giving. We feed the hungry, clothe the naked and attempt to protect the defenseless. And we never miss an opportunity to remind the world of all we do. But is it really giving in the purest sense? Are the airdrops of food and supplies in Afghanistan true giving? We hope they breed tolerance and support for our efforts there. But even if they don't, it does not matter so very much. If one hungry child gets a full stomach, our motives are unimportant.

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The word give is very important in our society. We use it in so many ways. How many of you say give it up, give me a break, give it a chance, give a little, don't give me that, etc., etc. The first Webster's Dictionary definition of give is &uot;to turn over the possession or control of to someone without cost or exchange, to make a gift.&uot;

So perhaps we don't always give. In one respect, I do not. I personally find it very easy and extremely pleasurable to turn over possession of things. I can &uot;gift&uot; anything. It is turning over control that causes me to shudder ever so slightly. Anyone who knows me can attest to that. I do not need to control material goods, but I do have a need to control what happens around me. It is a gray day when through lack of forethought and planning I find myself reacting rather than acting.

What about the great outpouring of giving to those touched by September 11? There was loud public outcry when it was discovered that the Red Cross was diverting New York relief funds to other causes. Those making donations wanted the right to choose the recipients of their money. I have more questions about administrative costs than about which needy person received my money. But donors have every right to be irate. They entered a pact with the Red Cross when money changed hands. But the donors also want that warm, fuzzy payoff for giving during such a horrible time.

So readers, should giving hurt? Should we endure pain for the sake of the greater good? Should we in fact give to the point of self-denial? Those are very personal questions that have only private, individual answers. Twenty years or so ago &uot;conspicuous consumption&uot; was the new catch phrase used to describe the gluttonous trend of the American society. Wants and needs were as one. We no longer wanted to keep up with the Joneses. We wanted to outshine them. We all probably remember

&uot;if it feels good, do it&uot;. That was extended to &uot;if it looks good, buy it.&uot; And so we did.

And even today that trend continues. Our present economy is causing changes, however, we are again being reminded of the differences between what we need and what we want. And believe it or not, our needs are very few. I, over the last year and a half, have learned that lesson well. And I am daily thankful for the learningnot for the disabling health problems but for the realization of priorities and needs. There is a wonderful freedom in meeting ones needs and not being burdened by wants. And so we as a society should look closely at the needs of those around us. We should accept responsibility for educating those who are unable to meet their own needs. Solutions lie in education. We should be strong for the helpless, but not too strong. If we are too strong and carry too much of their burden, we make them weak. And we should give, perhaps not until we hurt, but until they don't.

Carolyn Clark McGinty is a column writer for The Greenville Advocate and can be reached at .