My last three bogs have presented a total of 21 kinds of altruism: six kinds of “thoughtful communication,” seven kinds of “positive regard,” and eight kinds of “generous affection.” Today’s post introduces five kinds of “helpful giving,” and we will finish up this series next week with seven kinds of “beneficial relief.” All of this material will appear in my upcoming book on happiness. Enjoy! (Note: My first three in this series referred to 32 kinds of altruism. I’ve added one, so it is now 33 kinds! Sorry for any confusion.)
The Five Kinds of Helpful Giving
Charity—giving money, goods, or services to the needy. I restrict my use of the word “charity” to mean gifts to the poor. Sending money to aid the famine-stricken, taking a portion of one’s crops to the kitchen at a homeless shelter, and staffing a soup kitchen once a week would all be examples of charitable acts, each focused on the impoverished. I once read with interest that the techo-thriller novelist Tom Clancy gave his time to help staff a homeless shelter—an act of charity.
Donations—giving money or goods to a cause where the benefit is more to others than to you. This would include the practice of “tithing,” or committing a fixed percentage of one’s income to donate to one’s religious organization or some organization that looks after the needy. The word comes from the Old English word for “tenth,” so tithing is traditionally 10% of income or crop production or other output. I include the notion of tithing here under “donations” because the intention is not always directed at the needs of the poor, but may include such non-needy items as building a multi-million dollar structure for middle class worship. Hence, I restrict the use of “donation” to mean giving money or goods to a cause that one deems worthy, but not necessarily aimed at the poor. Should one choose to “tithe” a percentage of their earnings specifically to help the needy, then that would indeed be an example of what I call charity, and not simply a donation.
Generativity—leaving something for the use, enjoyment, and benefit of future generations. The use of the word “generativity” in this sense was first proposed by the German-Danish-American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson in 1950. Erikson proposed eight critical phases of human development. Generativity (as opposed to stagnation) was the seventh stage, and it typically occurs, or is the focal point, in one’s life between the ages of 25 and 65. Each of us has different ways of contributing to the welfare of future generations. Typically it is based on our strengths: a financial wizard endows a university professorship, a carpenter leaves furniture, a writer leaves her books, a social activist leaves his followers newly won rights, and a singer leaves the joy of song. The object of one’s generativity may be specific (as for one’s grandchild) or general (as Martin “Little Mikey” Luther King, Jr., and Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi each left a legacy for the millions). Ray Bradberry (1950) writes of generativity in Fahrenheit 451 when he portrays Granger (who has memorized books in order to preserve them) trying to comfort Montag (who admires Granger):
Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime. (pp. 156-7)
Gifts—The unsolicited, unexpected gift (as in flowers to cheer someone, or giving a book because you thought someone would especially like it) is more in the spirit of altruism than is the expected gift (as in holiday gift exchanges, birthday gifts, and the like), which is more like fulfilling a duty than giving a gift. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies are gifts. The only true gift is a portion of thyself.” According to Emerson’s criterion, the highest form of gift giving entails an item or gesture than expresses your effort, talent, time, and thought, and that fits the interests or needs of the other. For me to give a recording of my church choir to someone who detests choral music would be an inappropriate gift, but for me to give a box of note cards that I had made myself from linoleum block prints to my mother—who loves to write notes to folks and is always having to replenish her supply—well, that would qualify as a “portion of [my]self.”
Pro Bono—(short for pro bono publico, “for the good of the people”) originally referred to lawyers providing free legal services to those who could not afford it; now refers to anyone providing such a free service (consultants, doctors, and so forth). In effect, you are doing something “pro bono” when someone asks you to do something for them and you do not ask for a fee (when you normally would ask a fee, as you do it for a living). When a lawyer takes no fee for helping a charitable organization set up its charter, that is acting pro bono publico, for the good of the public.