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Empathy and Charity

I have lain down my universal doctrine, and for the rest of my life I consciously understand at the most basic levels who I am, and what I stand for. We come against fundamental problems with human desire when we try to push forward with productive and morally good universals, and I think Fichte says it well," The good cause is ever the weaker, for it is simple and can be loved only for itself; the bad attracts each individual by the promise that is most seductive to him; and its adherents, always at war amongst themselves, so soon as the good makes its appearance, conclude a truce that they may unite the whole powers of their wickedness against it." Even though the most basic universal truths seem mundane, there is a difference between consciously understanding something and being able to answer for it, and having a feeling, which is dressed in the costume of "common sense". It is understood that it is unacceptable to not be able to explain ones motives behind an action, so when one feels a certain way in which they are not conscious of the drives of that feeling, they strip you of your "right" to ask what the drives are by calling it "common sense". Then, just by asking you are obviously devoid of what so many others have without thinking. Ridiculous. Although I'm not a big Descartes fan, he lays it down well here, "Common sense is the most fairly distributed thing in the world, for each one thinks he is so well-endowed with it that even those who are hardest to satisfy in all other matters are not in the habit of desiring more of it than they already have." The fundamental universal that I am building on is: If your necessities are met, think about providing for those who cannot provide their necessities for themselves. When you gaze out into a world of hardship, charitable acts really are the frontline of good will and intention attempting to annihilate random contingency. Charitable acts are the attempt of men to alleviate the suffering of beings like themselves through their willed actions, over those who are tragic victims of chance. These actions cleansed of consequence and motives, in the objective world seem straightforward and simple; one hundred dollars to charity, is one hundred dollars for food that was not available the day before, end of story. To a homeless person who knows not where the donation was obtained, that is his truth. To the charity that accepts the donation, no questions asked, as the sum is small, this is their simple truth. In this essay, what I would like to focus on is the motivation for giving. I would like to focus on the different reasons why people would give to charities and ask the questions: Is there any real difference what a person's motivation is when giving to charity? If the charity, and the recipient have no way to know, and the money is providing sustenance for the less fortunate, then it must be an act of good will, is it not? What are different examples of motivations in giving to charity? In the end, can we make any kind of comparison that allows us to think that one persons motivation for donating is better than any other when we know that when the money has left the hands of the donor, it becomes a meaningless object of quantitative value in the hands of charity? I have been thinking about this for years, and it really seems like there is no clear form, although, if you cleanse your means, than as an individual, you will not have to bother with the calculations inherent in slipping by with an acceptable amount of dissonance or inconsistency, because your acts will always be benevolent, but let's play the skeptic. I feel my migraine starting already, so let's dive into the deep end!

Empathy- the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

Sympathy- the harmony of feeling naturally existing between persons of like tastes or opinion or of congenial dispositions.

Pity-sympathetic or kindly sorrow evoked by the suffering, distress, or misfortune of another, often leading one to give relief or aid or to show mercy: to feel pity for a starving child.

Charity- benevolent feeling, esp. toward those in need or in disfavor

Benevolent-characterized by or expressing goodwill or kindly feelings


Now anybody that knows me knows I am no fan of Christianity. Not because of any one Christian in particular, but what I see as damage caused by the group, and other groups with the same tendencies for that matter. I do support a good portion of the teachings of Jesus Christ though, that being said, Jesus is not above justifiable criticism either. The fact remains that his ideas of charity permeate our society today as resonant positives, and when I think about charity, of course this verse comes to mind:

Luke 21:1-4

"And he looked, and saw rich men putting their donations into the treasury. And he also saw a certain poor widow donating two mites. And he said "Truly, I tell you, that this poor widow has cast in more than all of them: for they have all given but a portion of their great wealth, as an offering to God, while she, in her poverty, has given all that she had."

This really hits to the core of what I am discussing in this essay, and it is the idea that there is a moral qualitative value for the one who is donating the money, which is then transformed into a pure quantitative purchasing power as them money changes hands. Even though the two mites would not buy even a fraction, quantitatively and objectively of what the more rich men put in, for her, it was the same as one of those rich men giving up his entire fortune as a donation.

So, I have to burst the masturbation of the romantic types out there, but we can deconstruct this in a more scientific way, and we find out that much of the flavor is grotesquely romantic, but the fundamental qualitative, to quantitative evaluation remains the same. So here's how it goes:

The two mites may be all the woman had, but two mites are also easy to attain again, where as a fortune is not. So while one tends to want to equate the two that is a clear misuse of the power of intellectualism. When Jesus says that she has put in more than all of them, that would only be true in an individual qualitative sense. I do agree, that it takes more courage to give when you are suffering, but again, when you have learned to live with nothing, that relative conditioning really is a natural reaction to the momentums and social tendencies we live in as individuals. We see this when, after a stockbroker loses all their money, they may commit suicide rather than go back to a life with no money. The sad, realistic psychological fact is that it is more difficult to give up a fortune, than it is to give up a tiny bit of possessions, even if it is all you have because you have been conditioned to live with nothing, so your life has not changed much. This type of reality really destroys any kind of hope in believing that the romantic teachings of old are anything other than purposely contorted caricatures to maximize the resonance of memory through time. The fact also cannot be overlooked that Jesus became popular among the common (read: poor) people for bringing about these types of teachings that allow the poor people to escape within themselves and let go of the oppression of the terrible class struggles in the time in which they lived.

Ultimately, the rich men's contributions will alleviate the suffering of more people than the poor women's contribution. I am a supporter of utilitarianism, so I do think that the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people is a valuable ideal, so, the greatest amount of good will be done by those who's little bit was much more than another's everything. That's the disparaging unromantic truth. But, at an individual level, the individual donor, motivations are important to that person in and of themselves.

Compare these two examples and decide which is the most benevolent:

Example #1

A homeless man spends twenty years on the streets, and finally manages to pull himself up through his own will. He goes out, gets a job, and puts his life back together. When he is sustaining his life again, he turns to the soup kitchen that he used to eat at to volunteer. He goes there, and sees all his old homeless friends who are happy to be served by him. There is a fundamental empathy because the less fortunate know that the server was less fortunate himself at one point. They see him as the example of what they might do, and they know he truly understands them. He serves them as a retroactive saving of himself.

Example #2

A television celebrity lives their whole life with no troubles with money. Their parents put them through the best schools, and their career took off and they earned their own fortune also. At some point, the celebrity feels a bit guilty because, walking around the streets of LA, there is so many homeless people that now the celebrity wants to give back to the community that they see as contributing to their wealth. When the celebrity serves the homeless people at the soup kitchen, there is no realistic connection. The celebrity has never been homeless, therefore cannot connect on a fundamental empathetic level. Only some kind of detached sympathy is possible. The celebrity has no realistic ground to stand at the level of the homeless, so, pity is all that is possible. This is insulting to what little dignity a homeless person has, to be served out of pity. The celebrity is ignorant of the situation, but the homeless person understands. Realistically, the homeless person would rather have a pity donation, than no donation but remember, this is a quantitative end evaluation. We are talking about the qualitative exchanges.

Jesus taught that one should be measured by what he gives, measured against what he has. I say that no true charitable act is actually true, unless there is a fundamental empathy shared by hard reality experiences with the recipient: Your mother died from cancer, you start a cancer foundation; You spent time on drugs, so you contribute free time to discussion groups.

So, in the end, it is about that fundamental empathy in the qualitative sense. You must feel the others pain, from your own past experience with the same situation. No fair saying, " Well, I love my house, so I can understand what it would be like if I did not have my house anymore. So, empathy is possible for me." Reality is different from imagination. Truth is stranger than fiction. Actually being homeless is not as simple as the exact negation of the affirmation of what you enjoy about your home. Reality has its own life, and you cannot understand that until you have been a product of contingency, completely. The further you move away from that fundamental empathy, the more you cease to identify with those you are helping, and the more your donations become simply sympathetic, patronizing and based in pity, not identity. We should be glad that we can only sympathize with the less fortunate, because that means we have escaped being the universes contingent plaything, but we should not believe we have made a true act of charity if we temporarily step down to alleviate the suffering.

In the end, the quantitative difference of the dollar amount is all that matters to the less fortunate after the money changes hands. I use the soup kitchen example because it brings in the dimension of servitude in person, and the implications of such a meeting.
I am not trying to stifle donations, for whatever reason, but understanding our motives as individuals is the most important search we carry on, as individuals.


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