The December topic at Ethics Forum is poverty and serving the poor, for as it is said, "Tis the season of giving."
During the holiday season we are asked to donate to charities and many good causes. On "Giving Tuesday" we are solicited online. The Media reports on projects to feed the hungry and clothe the homeless. Charles Dickens' novella "A Christmas Carol" appears in various renditions on television to remind us not to be greedy and to take care of the less fortunate.
Sadly, the focus on caring for the poor is rarely sustained beyond December. Perhaps this is why Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you." (Matthew 26:11)
Helping others requires motivation beyond the cheery mood of the holidays. It needs to be profitable in some way to the giver. What profits you depends on what you value.
In monastic communities that are called to serve the poor the reward is knowing the community's mission is being fulfilled. In corporate environments with charitable foundations a similar reward can be felt. However, most of us do not live in monastic communities, nor are we in the position to endow through charitable foundations. Many of us live on the edge of survival ourselves and sharing with others can be a true sacrifice.
Sacrificial giving can be a reward to those who recognize the value of sacrifice. Those who do not recognize the value of sacrifice usually defer to government agencies to take care of the poor. That is the attitude of Mr. Scrooge who was approached by the charity collectors.
"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."
"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.
"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"
"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."
"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.
Later, the Spirit of Christmas Present mocks Scrooge's insensitivity by hurling his own words back at him. That is part of Scrooge's transformation. Sometimes we need a mirror held up before us to reveal our true selves. May December show us what we need to be more caring toward our fellow human beings.
Related reading: Serving the World's Poor, Profitably; Will Selling to the Poor Pay Off?; Learning From a True Leader