October, November and December are characterized by the festive holidays they host. We celebrate these holidays by indulging in great food, comforting drinks, lively fellowship, and extravagant gift-giving. The surplus of these, we distribute to the less fortunate. We volunteer at soup kitchens. We participate in clothes and food drives. We donate to our favorite charities. We drop change into clanging buckets found outside retail stores. And we insert a line or two about the importance of charity into our religious stories and/or oral folktales.
Charitable works are often encouraged for the surge in endorphins they generate; a high similar to the altered state created by psychoactive drugs. In the district, a debilitating K2 epidemic, lurks in our peripheral vision outside the raised windows of our cars; in search of the same boost. In America, ramped opioid addiction, serves as a daily reminder of the motivation to escape and medicate. But, we elevate ourselves above these deplorables; categorizing our own destructive habits as socially acceptable and even righteous. Yet, renowned Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, in his fifth novel, “Anthills of the Savannah,” challenges this thought process, writing:
“Charity … is the opium of the privileged; from the good citizen who habitually drops ten kobo from his loose change and from a safe height above the bowl of the leper outside the supermarket; to the group of good citizens (like yourselfs) who donate water so that some Lazurus in the slums can have a syringe boiled clean as a whistle for his jab and his sores dressed more hygienically that the rest of him; to the Band Aid stars that lit up so dramatically the dark Christmas skies of Ethiopia. While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.”
Seasonal charity, it’s good works, and the joyful feelings it creates is an ineffective remedy to a world that continually places profit over people. Charity treats the symptoms of unbridled greed and individualism. Performed intermittently; charity is a selfish, lazy act that lacks the commitment necessary to create a better world. It focuses more on the cheerful attitude of the giver than the tangible benefit of the recipient.
The WI Bridge spoke with Greg, a formerly homeless resident living in the District, for his point of view on charitable giving during the holidays. Ironically, Greg did not prioritize any of the things most people with homes think about during the season.
“Life is good. You see people all down and sad, complaining all the time. For what? Life is beautiful. You meet some good people, you meet some people that are nasty to you. That’s pretty even throughout the year. I try to surround myself with positive energy all year round. When I see someone in the Christmas spirit I join in. Why would I want to ruin their time? I’ve found that when you do good; good things come back to you.”
Greg doesn’t reserve his positive spirit for the holiday season and it seems as if he is asking us to do the same. Community development projects rarely ask the people they seek to serve what they feel will have the greatest impact on improving their predicament. Charity often assumes the same. We assume people want more food. We assume people need more coats. We assume kids want toys. We rarely ask if those things hold any value to the people who receive them.
Well, we asked someone and the answer was surprisingly simple; just more love all year round. So, before we roll a spliff of charity this holiday season, let us all remember that the herb is more than just a powerful potion.