For a very long time, I gave out of a sense of misplaced guilt (I don’t deserve what I have, so I have to give back) or obligation (if I don’t give back, I’m an asshole). Even when I became more educated about the plight of minorities in this country, so much of my initial support was merely fuel for my own twisted ego. Before, I felt guilty for being born into the middle class, so I tried to be extra nice to poor people by volunteering at soup kitchens and donating to charity. Afterwards, I felt guilty for being white, so I tried to be extra friendly to people of color and called anyone who disagreed with me a racist (sidenote: not a great way to effect change.) My early wars on social justice did little but temporarily make me feel better about myself.
After a couple decades of vacillating between trying to make myself as small as possible, trying to take up more space, and trying to find some sort of happy balance between the two, I can only give the simplest explanation for why I give now.
It’s not about me.
That is the most liberating sentence anyone can say. It’s also the truest. The homeless man I give a granola bar to doesn’t care what neighborhood I grew up in. He’s just happy to have something to eat. The black receptionist I chat with at my doctor’s office doesn’t care that I’m white. She’s just happy to be alive and working a good job (or, at least, I hope she’s happy… Maybe that’s a topic for another day.)
Likewise, the people who admire your holiday decorations don’t care that there are more lights on the house down the street. The hungry families you feed don’t care that you gave them twelve cans of cranberry sauce, some sticks of beef jerky, and a single water bottle. The little sister for whom you made a homemade necklace because you’ve been out of work for six months doesn’t care that you didn’t buy her the $1200 computer she was eying at Best Buy.
They’re all just happy to receive. If they’re not, they’re going through their own drama that has nothing to do with you.
So, this season, I urge you to give away what you do not need, enjoy what you have, and be kind to everyone you encounter. No over-thinking, no self-absorption, no guilt.
Even if your kindness is spurned, you lose nothing by having given it in the first place. Love is not an exhaustible resource. If anything, it’s the opposite.
It’s not a black thing; it’s the right thing.