I'm going to be honest: I'm not the world's most charitable person.
There are two reasons for that. First, it slips my mind.. like a lot of people I feel like.
Second, maybe this makes me totally selfish, but I really prefer to give, or do good, for specific people. I like to be physically involved. Whether it's donating to a specific person's caring bridge, attending a silent auction for a sick family member, wrapping gifts at the salvation army,....etc.
I don't mean to say making generous donations to large organizations is bad..but.... I don't get to see who it goes to, because it likely doesn't go to anything specific, but is pooled together to do big things. I understand that's how effective charities work, but I struggle with feeling like I'm making a difference.
I think big charities do great work, but I also think great work needs to be done on a micro level.
That's where this idea comes in:
It's the idea that when you pay it forward for someone else, they feel inspired to perhaps go on and do the same for yet another person. What results (in an ideal world) is a continuous chain of good deeds.
I first saw a story on Pinterest about a woman who spent her birthday doing 38 random acts of kindness for strangers.
Well, let me tell you a short story of the "parking ramp cop"...
Every.single.day., rain or shine, 90 degrees or 20 degrees, there's a cop who stands at the exit of my parking ramp to help control the flow of traffic (and make sure us ramp people have a fighting chance of ever getting out of the ramp). It's the same cop. Every day I pull up, use my card, the lever raises and I wait. Have you ever just looked at someone and felt like they were a really kind and genuine person? In my year and a half of working here, I've never see him get upset, or animated, at any car. He just stands there, smiles, and waves cars out of the ramp and on the street. Every day I pull up, and he KNOWS which lane I need to be in (the far lane, so I can turn left at the next street to enter the freeway). It's stupid and small but I feel like I have this 'relationship' or 'understanding' with him, he remembers me! It makes me smile.
I'd been thinking for a long time of doing this, ....and yesterday was the perfect opportunity. I'd be leaving early from work today (and thus, missing him) so yesterday, I stopped at the Caribou in our lobby after work. I bought a $10 gift card, slipped it in its sleeve, and wrote a little note on a hot pink post-it, letting him know that I appreciate what he does, and that it's nice to see a smiling face after work every day....and I wished him a happy holidays. As I exited the ramp, I handed it off, and said "Happy Thanksgiving!"
He looked at it for a split second, and figured it out. He looks up and says "Thank you!!" in a very genuine and sincere way.
I'm not writing this post for praise, or for you guys to tell me how sweet it was. I'm writing it in the hope that maybe one or two of you will go do something like this for someone else.
Here's the thing about charity-
I think some people get the impression that if it makes you feel good too, if you derive some benefit from it, it doesn't really count. Being able to hand off that gift card to the cop yesterday made me feel REALLY good. I was grinning like an idiot the entire way home. Because I imagine him going home and telling his wife, kids, brother, whatever, what some random person coming out of the parking ramp did, and it made me really happy that it presumably made HIM really happy.
SO, let's do some deduction. It made ME super happy, it made HIM super happy.. aannndd what's wrong with that? What's wrong with engaging in acts of kindness, charity, whatever.. that lift YOUR spirit as well? If it just results in more happy, charitable people in the world.. I see nothing wrong with that.
[Anyone remember the FRIENDS episode where Phoebe tries to do something nice that doesn't simultaneously make her feel good? and she lets the bee sting her? classic...]
Here's the thing about charity on a micro level-
You can give smaller, do smaller things, but really feel like you made a bigger impact. I'm going to use a big charity as an example (please, don't get the wrong impression for my use of such.. it's just the best comparison I have). If I gave $10 to a large charity... I know it helps, but I don't feel like I made a big impact. A memorable impact.
$10 gift card to someone who is often overlooked in his job? I feel like I made a bigger impact. At least in his day.
So if you CAN'T donate big, and you feel the same way I do sometimes about it, try to do something small like this for someone else over the holidays. Get a gift card for your doorman, for a traffic cop you see every day, pay for someone's meal behind you in the drive through (if you prefer the 'get in, get out' method.. like I do ;-) ).
Hope you all have a happy thanksgiving, and eat yourself stupid.
Don't forget your stretchy pants.