How best to do good

Published 9:22 pm Wednesday, December 16, 2015

To the editor:

Presumably almost all of us have within us an altruistic impulse to do good, to help others in ways both large and small.  At this Christmas season or anytime, we might ask how can we do good better, how can we most effectively maximize that want that makes us more. It’s more than just a philosophical question. In a time of growing economic inequality, more opportunities exist for individuals even as our political and economic institutions resist change that would lessen those inequities.  Yet what could you possibly do to make a difference?

First, embrace what the writer Marilynne Robinson calls that “reservoir of goodness” within you so that you can help others “in the ordinary sense of things.”  No matter who you are, you will feel and all will be better if you act with a sense of kindness, love, forgiveness, and an encompassing grace that recognizes we should give more than we are due, that we knowingly or not receive more than we merit.  Who could possibly be owed the bluest and purest of skies, the ones that overspread and occur only at this time of the year, a Christmas rose that blooms during the darkest months of the year, or the smiles and laugher of a young child if are childishly innocent. Yet to be thankful for them you need to look up and not down, around and not in, and reclaim the joy of life.

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Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Mark Zuckerberg may give away billions but everyone possesses similar and equally miraculous gifts. Indeed, offering something almost sacred and precious to you, a special pin or necklace, an article of clothing, a few hours of your crowded and chaotic life, food to an unknown neighbor, and, yes, even a precious dollar or two endows your gift with a special quality of understanding, thus enlarging that reservoir of goodness for all. Gifts perish but goodness remains.  Reach out to those close and strange, near and far, and always, always remember that nothing should be expected or owed in return. Nothing. The concept of grace requires that.

If you are older and read this, you understand that you probably have more discretionary time and money than ever. What you do with both reflects your ego or your legacy or both. Personally, I don’t want to go on another riverboat cruise, buy an expensive sports car, give away more to my children, purchase that designer sports coat, a local election, or political influence so that I can temporarily shape a world I no longer understand. At some age, the most interesting things in life cannot be purchased with more money. They never could.

If all this sounds familiar, it should at this time of the year. Without sounding too preachy, it’s the story of eternal Christmas. What better parable could there be about giving those things most precious to us to others, about existing to serve not just ourselves and our interests but larger ones as well, and about reknitting our communities with kindness and love and not judgment.

For those who too often and cynically say, yes, you can do more because you have both time and money, I have less of both these days but perhaps just a bit more grace. Perhaps. In the hard-scrabble Texas of my youth, my mother forever reminded me that, if I didn’t get a new shirt or pair of shoes at Christmas, then Jesus didn’t either, that he wore “poor man’s clothes” and all the signs of poverty but that never stopped him from helping “all mankind” as a servant to the goodness in us all.  She was right in the way that mothers are. Think of the best way for you to do good this Christmas and year. Only you will know.


Milton Ready
Tryon, N.C.