As I am a proud lifelong cynic it is easy to imagine that I might find all the sudden generosity of spirit expected of people this time of year to feel a bit overdone. It’s like the country is making up for being slackers during the first eleven months of the year.
And, really, isn’t that mostly the truth?
What were you doing back on the Fourth of July? I was drinking a margarita on my deck while watching the fireworks. I was being charitable…to myself.
Now it’s December and the panic is setting in. You wonder “Was I good enough this year?”
Suddenly you’re actively seeking ways to improve your profile. Santa is quite the motivator.
I’m not suggesting that all this rampant volunteering is not wholly altruistic—I think most people genuinely want to help others—but we sure do pack a lot of giving back into this most wonderful and most busy time of the year. Maybe we should spread it out a little? But I get it. This time of year it’s easy to give. There is great need. And being charitable is built into the system. The opportunities are almost unavoidable (i.e. the bell ringers at the mall and grocery store that accost you coming or going…for weeks…every time you go to the store!).
But even I—the Grinchy cynic—has a heart that can grow two sizes when I see the good things people can do when they come together.
This year my family packed food for a shelter, donated coats, collected books for a school in need, entertained the elderly with song, and carolled in the neighborhood (because sometimes just regular people need a little pick me up). Some things we did as a family and some we did on our own. Some were planned and some just fell into our lap and we said “Yes!” instead of pouring ourselves another drink and watching another Hallmark Holiday Movie.
(Ooohh…let me take this opportunity to give you a charitable gift and summarize all the movies for you–grumpy person hates Christmas, said grumpy person meets overly spirited character who may or may not be a nemesis, the two argue/fight/cajole and eventually canoodle, there is some sort of misunderstanding, there is also a dog or kid nearby, couple splits, holiday spirit intervenes, it snows unexpectedly, all ends well, cue sparkly holiday music and implication that Christmas magic is real. There! Now you don’t need to watch any of those.)
When we are charitable we do it because it is the right thing to do and because it is our responsibility as citizens to help those in need, but I would be lying if I said there wasn’t anything in it for us. Giving feels good.
What’s even better is that it is okay–it’s okay to feel good about giving. The joy of the giving does not diminish the outcome. Being kind doesn’t have to hurt or be wrapped in self-sacrifice to have value.
Being charitable is a gift–a gift we give ourselves. It’s a gift even a cynic can love.
I must try to remember that after the bell ringers all go home and the sun returns to warm my deck.