I’ve claimed here before that I am open to learning new things and today I’m going to share an example of that. Two weeks ago, I wrote about connecting charity and capitalism and included a statement that an American who had lived overseas told me probably a dozen years ago: “charitable giving is very uncommon in Europe.” It turns out, at least in some areas, that was off base, so I want to revisit this comment and share what I’ve learned.
I will start by stating that I don’t remember the context or exact phrasing of that original statement. I interpreted it to mean that charitable giving was uncommon, but it might well have been that the kinds of billion-dollar business-based charities we increasingly have here in the US are less common in Europe. I honestly don’t recall.
One person to push back, gently, on my statement was an Irish friend. He wrote, “I know, from an Irish perspective, we are some of the most generous donors in the world. There’s something about being from a country that was occupied, where we had an oppressor, and where, over much of our history, we were very, very poor.”
His statement got me thinking, trying to remember the context of that original conversation. Unfortunately, to be honest, if I tried to come up with something, I’d be guessing, so I won’t comment on that. Instead, I decided that a next best step would be to ask for additional input from someone I know very well, who has lived and worked in Europe for decades: my brother. I asked for his perspective on my blog post and here is some of what he shared:
The Germans are internationally known for their immense private charitable donations. The private portion of the donations for the Christmas Tsunami in 2004 hit 502.5 million Euros, a whopping 0,02% of the country’s GDP, which was then almost doubled by the German government, who pledged a further 500 million for that cause alone. And in just a few weeks after the July 2021 flooding, two of the largest charitable organizations collected 362 million Euros (one is a coalition of Caritas, Red Cross, UNICEF, and Diakonie, the other is a coalition of 20 other groups like Habitat for Humanity, the Workers Welfare Association, Care International, Islamic Relief, Malteser, Central Welfare Board of Jews in Germany, etc.).
So, I freely admit that my comment in that earlier post was incorrect—and I’m glad that a giving spirit is alive and well in Europe. That doesn’t, of course, detract from the underlying intent of my post, which is about how charity masks systemic injustice.
I also want to note that my brother’s comment about the German government’s tsunami donation is also an important part of the picture. We can give individually (as I did to my friends whose house flooded last summer and to organizations funding the revolution), but we also need to think systemically. We need to invest in “the least, the last, and the lost” in our midst and abroad so that they won’t be impoverished and disenfranchised any longer. When any of us are not able to live up to our God-given potential, we all suffer the loss of what they could have contributed to our society—and not just financially.
When have you needed to admit that you were wrong and correct a comment you made? Do you need to do so now?
Thank you, Shirin on several levels. One of my own came immediately to mind: When a new person came into part of my work life and barely after having been introduced, spoke to me a couple of days later in vulgar, dismissive, sexist language, I was surprised and shocked. I chose to respond “Good morning,” and walked on.
However, in my mind I totally judged this person negatively and uncharitably…and to my shame, guilt, and regret, repeated the incident and my thoughts to a trusted compatriot.
After much more exposure to the new person, I learned of the deep, lifetime wounds this person had had and endured, her/his arduous efforts to overcome some of the effects, the years of long caring for his/her sick parents, and longing for understanding, friendship and compassion.
I acknowledged my feelings and reactions to myself and my Creator: “promptly admitted…unless when to do so would injure them or others.” I acknowledged what I’d felt, thought, and done, asked my Creator for forgiveness, and talked with my compatriot, admitting I’d been unfair, unloving, and wrong in my reactions. We agreed that we’d both learned a lot and went forward with bettering relations within and without ourselves and this new person…to this day.
Thank you, Joy, for this heartfelt and honest sharing. I am grateful for you sharing such a powerful illustration and appreciate the reminder that we can learn and grow from every misstep, when we are open and willing. I’m glad that my reflections touched you in this way.