Monday, December 13, 2010

Musing on Monday

As Christmas draws near, I tend to think a lot about charity. Perhaps it's all the gift-giving. Perhaps it's because there are more donation boxes around town and more charitable initiatives at this time of year. Perhaps it's all the commercialism which sends me searching for meaning in the season.

Richard and I try to do our part all year round and step it up a notch at Christmas. We usually donate items - sometimes we pay for new items, sometimes we give our used items. Occasionally, we volunteer and participate in charity events. We also like to support vendors who tie up with charitable causes. We do donate money outright sometimes, provided we can see and trust where the money is going to end up, otherwise we don't find it very meaningful or gratifying. Richard refuses to donate blood though - in that case, he'd rather give money!

I have to say though, that I do believe that charity begins at home. It is only when all is well at home that I think outside our family. Once we have what we need and we are happy and healthy, then we can think about giving back.

I must say also that I have come across people who do nothing at all because they say that the money donated may not end up at the right place, or they want to do something "big" because otherwise "it won't make much difference". While I understand those reasons, I don't agree that they are obstacles. Of course, charity work is not top priority for most people (including me), but it's actually not that hard or inconvenient to give back and to spread a little joy. There are so many ways to help and giving money is not the only option. And doing something big is great but if you can't, then doing something small is still great. Helping one person may not make much difference in the overall scheme of things, but it sure makes a difference to that one person.

The way I look at it, it is a matter of what values I hold. And now that Ryan is here, it is also a matter of what values I hope to teach him.

The first and most obvious is about having compassion for others. It constantly baffles me how human beings can be so horrible to each other. Quite apart from all the crimes that are committed everyday, we can be incredibly inconsiderate, unfriendly and downright mean to our fellow man. Sometimes when I look at Ryan playing happily with other children, I wonder when and how we stopped playing with each other and started fighting instead.

Next, is a sense of social consciousness. To me, this life is not just about me and my family getting what we want and what we need. I enjoy my life, not only because of what I've done or how hard I've worked, but also because of the contribution of many people, most of them whom I do not know. I am safe on the roads because other drivers drive safely. I can sleep well at night because my neighbour is not hosting a rowdy party at 3 in the morning. I can sit down to a clean table at the food court because the person before me cleared his tray. I can still see live tigers because people care enough to protect them from extinction. My grandchildren and great-grandchildren will still get to enjoy nature because people make the effort to recycle and to preserve what we have.

So, I hope Ryan will understand that he enjoys privileges which others do not and that the more he has, the more he should give back to society. I hope he will always be humble enough to recognise that there is no such thing as being entitled. Everything we have is God-given and the best way to give glory is to pass on the goodwill that we have received.

I also want to show Ryan that we should give unconditionally, without expecting reward, without being petty. I don't ever want him to think, "What's in it for me?" and I hope he will find more joy in giving than in receiving.

Most important of all, I believe that we need to take positive action and actually do good things. Too many times, we think that it is enough to simply refrain from doing bad things, or we wait for others to do what we ourselves could have done. I hope Ryan will never be like that. I want him to have the initiative and the bravery to make things happen, instead of being someone who complains about the way things are. I hope he will be willing to step up, to shoulder responsibility and to be accountable.

As I write this, I am reminded of a song that I used to sing to Ryan when he was a newborn. I sang to him a lot and there were just so many children's songs I could take. So, to keep myself from getting bored, I would sing all sorts of songs. One of my favourites was, and still is, Michael Jackson's Man in the Mirror:

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change

He says it much better (and much more poetically) than I. There's not a lot of authority that's better than the King of Pop!


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