Posts Tagged ‘reasons for giving’

Express Yourself

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Does anyone even know what the word “fiscal” literally means? The ironic thing about this time of year is that even though it’s nominally about giving, thoughts of money are everywhere – spending, saving, giving, hoping it’s all enough in our own lives, and then this year, worrying if those fools in Washington will get it together and figure out the “fiscal cliff.”

It’s beyond cliche to point out that we’re more consumers than citizens. But one of the consequences is that we compartmentalize our financial lives and separate them from our civic lives. Even within our financial lives, we compartmentalize. Money spent on goods is different from money spent on charity.

Allow me to suggest two different ways to think about the nexus of money and citizenship, which is ultimately what my two questions in this blog are about.

One mode of consumer-citizenship is expressive. We use money to reveal something about ourselves. I give to museums because I believe the arts should be available to all. I give to my alma mater because I want others to have the opportunities I had. I buy certain movies because I want to relive a certain experience, and maybe share it with others – I want to feel a certain way. I buy a certain brand of car because I want people to see me a certain way.

The other mode is directional. We use money to make something come about in the world. I give to a political campaign because I want certain policies enacted and others not. I give to a soup kitchen because I want hungry people to eat. I save for my children’s education because I want them to have certain opportunities. I buy a house in a certain neighborhood because I want to contribute to the rebuilding of a city.

And so, I think there are expressive and directional modes of individual philanthropy. I don’t yet know if I think that applies in an institutional context. But in each of our own lives, I’d say it’s healthy, this holiday season, to think about how we balance the directional and expressive elements of our giving.