Doing charity in private: The problem with public giving

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I did a certain charitable act a month or so ago and I wanted to tell someone about it, almost immediately. Maybe that’s a normal reaction; when we do something we feel good about we want to share that overwhelmingly positive emotion. But maybe we just like to lift ourselves up by telling others how great we were in that moment.

Maybe it’s a little of both. Maybe we think it’s the first but in reality it is the later.

I choose not to tell anyone that day, or the next, in fact I didn’t tell anyone, and if you don’t count this (which I can’t decide if I should) I still haven’t. But, the overwhelming desire to tell someone did open my eyes to my own desires. It made me step back and wonder why, after the joy from doing good had passed, was the next emotion a self serving one?

I want people to know I’m a good person, which is a flawed logic,  because if you are a good person, people already know. Goodness isn’t something that goes unnoticed. Perhaps people don’t see to which degree you are good, but they still know that you are. Goodness doesn’t come from one charitable act, or even a handful, it comes from a mixture of constant charitable acts and other acts of kindness and righteousness.

Telling people of one charitable act, won’t change their mind if they’ve decided you’re a bad person. It takes them seeing a visible transformation in your everyday actions for them to suddenly change their perspective on you. That’s possible, keep in mind, if you fear you are seen as a bad person, or even a not-so-good person, there is plenty of time to change that. Change is real and possible, so don’t stop seeking it.

But change doesn’t come from bragging. In fact, bragging always has the opposite effect that the bragger means for it to. If someone takes to bragging people take to disliking them and thinking of them as a worse person than they probably are. We can’t stand self-righteous people, yet somehow we still manage to be pretty self-righteous ourselves.

The Bible touches on this too, in Matthew 6:1: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your father who is in Heaven.”

God already knows about your charitable act, He doesn’t want you to be doing it for yourself, He wants you to be doing it for the person/group you are helping, and you should want that too. It’s easy to argue that you can help someone and help yourself in that action at the same time. You could say both are true, but then you have to go into the reason you are helping someone, if it’s because it will also help you, your hearts not in the right place, and you’re being one of those self-righteous people you hate.

So foster goodness, foster charity, foster kindness. Let it ooze from your very being because it is the right thing to do, don’t do it because you want others to think you are right. They’re very different things, and even some of the most charitable people fall into the act of doing charity for themselves.

It’s not supposed to be about you, honestly, it never was.

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