True charity respects dignity

It was a warm, summer evening. We had just finished milking when the sedan ground to a halt in front of the barn. It was an old-timer with large tailfins and paint faded to a pallid blue.

“Unity in things necessary, liberty in things doubtful, charity in everything.”

— Marco Antonio de Dominis (1520-1624), Catholic bishop

It was a warm, summer evening. We had just finished milking when the sedan ground to a halt in front of the barn. It was an old-timer with large tailfins and paint faded to a pallid blue. I had been tending to the pail bunters — calves you feed with a pail and yes, they do bunt and splash milk onto themselves, the floor and any person unfortunate enough to be feeding them. I was happy for a reprieve so set down the pail and stepped outside.

I didn’t recognize the vehicle but the occupants were familiar the moment they emerged from it — our neighbour, Jess and eldest son, Valentine.

Jess and his wife had 10 children. They lived in an old two-storey house a few miles across country. They were an agreeable, hard-working couple and the children were a boisterous yet good-natured lot.

Jess smiled as he approached the barn door.

“How’re you doing, son?” he asked then walked past me before I could answer.

As the milking was finished, Father could take a few minutes to chat with his neighbours. They spoke for a time but only made small talk. I remember wondering if there was a point to conversation or to the unexpected visit.

Finally, Father broached the subject of the children.

“How are all those brothers and sisters doing?” he asked Valentine.

“Um,” Valentine looked at his father. “They’re all doing pretty good.”

Father smiled. I was reminded of the time he and I had dropped in on Jess and his family around mealtime. The kids were gathered around two big tables. One of the older sisters was carefully ladling macaroni from a large enameled washbasin. It was my introduction to the reality that not everyone had as much to eat or the variety of food that my family enjoyed.

“I bet those kids like milk,” said Father. “You’d help me out if you took a few gallons.” I wasn’t sure what Father was suggesting. We had a state-of-the-art 500-gallon stainless steel milk tank. The milk truck showed up every third day and it had just come that morning.

Looking back, I was witnessing a unique form of charity: a little milk for a neighbour in need and a little respect for a fellow man. My father understood how to be charitable without calling attention to a charitable act and without assailing the self-worth of the recipient.

Charity is considered an altruistic and selfless act founded upon a concern for the well-being of others. When we think of charity, we often think of giving what we possess — be it money, possessions or time — to those of us less fortunate.

While some individuals view charity as a joy, others see it as a duty or obligation and others still see it as unnecessary and enabling.

Some people want to be seen when they’re being charitable. The want to say, “I have much; you have little, so I share my abundance with you.”

People who are charitable for the sake of appearances will often talk about the charitable act far more than is necessary. They project a “look at me and see what I’m doing” mentality. Internally, they may be thinking, “This makes me look good and appear successful.” This helps to enhance a self-image founded primarily upon ego. The contribution is still beneficial, but it really doesn’t help the individual to become free or empowered.

You may be saying, “I am giving therefore I am a doer of good deeds.” You define yourself by the act of giving. Again, this attitude serves only to build the ego and ego is nothing but an inner self-reflection of the false self.

When charity arises from the right place, it can be an awakening for the giver — a means by which to enhance a positive self-image. When charity arises from the wrong place, it can further strengthen our connection to ego — the false self.

There is another sort of giving — another act of charity that requires no acknowledgement. For those individuals with healthy self-esteem, it is giving for the simple sake of giving. The concept of the doer and receiver disappear.

Charity becomes a beautiful, spiritual practice when there is no ego reinforcement. We give because we choose to and not for any payback.

As it turned out, Jesse had a cream can in the car’s trunk. Father opened the large valve on the milk tank and filled the can with rich, frothy and delicious milk.

Was charity the purpose of the visit? The ready cream can might suggest so. Jess was a proud man and would never have openly accepted charity. My father’s offer made the help acceptable. The visit ended when the cream can was filled. The matter was never raised and I don’t recall another visit.

And what of a willingness on the part of the recipient to accept charity? What place might we be coming from when we refuse charity when we desperately need it? Perhaps healthy self-esteem plays a critical role in our motivation whether we are the giver or the receiver. And perhaps a rare occasion of need will prompt even the proudest amongst us to reach out a hand.

It was William Hutton, the English poet and historian who once wrote, “The charity that hastens to proclaim its good deeds ceases to be charity and is only pride and ostentation.”

When we develop our self-esteem we begin to see many aspects of life in different ways. Our motivations come more clearly into focus and we begin to release the ego’s need for status and acknowledgement.

Everything you do takes on new meaning and that includes charity.

Murray Fuhrer is a local self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.