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In a couple of previous posts I challenged the sincerity of the charity of a corporate non-profit organization (feeding children or feeding the façade of corporate social responsibility December 7th, 2011 and Challenging Corporate Charity December 8th, 2011). My challenge focused on where the charitable efforts are being directed and I wondered whether there would be as much of a need for the charity if the focus of the concern were to be changed. That is if we are concerned about child hunger and child poverty and the impact of that poverty on their nutrition and health and their subsequent ability to learn, then why are we not considering more foundational ways to improve their situation? By not looking at how to help their parents move out of a condition of poverty I believe that we are only putting a finger in the dyke. We are just delaying further problems and we are ignoring the impending flood. Child poverty and resulting child hunger are just one symptom of the ever-widening and unfair gap between the rich and the poor. Without addressing income inequity (see Sharing the Wealth) the issues that require the intervention of charitable organizations will only continue to increase.

I understand that a component of feeding children at school is the provision of some instruction on health and nutrition. What foods are good to eat, how do they help our bodies function well, and what are the consequences of not eating well? This is important and if we make an effort to teach children how to eat well we could have a positive impact on the health of the next generation of adults. A very good thing indeed. But I question why when we know that there is a direct link between nutrition, learning and overall health we are not ensuring that this education is part of the formal curriculum and funded as such. Does this component of learning need to be an add-on initiated by an external organization and funded with money raised by parents and volunteers? Further if it should be part of the curriculum why are we agreeable to having corporations taking this on as an act of charity?

looking for clarity

Speculation about these questions has taken me beyond this one charitable initiative and to broadening my focus. I am now wondering about what I consider the conundrum or paradox of what we call charity these days. It also got me wondering about a number of the ways we as a society have chosen to operate and the mechanisms we have established to address issues and concerns within society as well as how we choose to ignore or deny other issues and concerns. I focus here on charity.

A paradox is defined as a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth. It is a contradiction, an inconsistency or illogical or slightly muddled thinking. A conundrum is an intricate and complicated problem or puzzle. I find our current take on charity to be a bit of a puzzle and definitely self-contradictory.

The conundrum in this case is the expansive question of what is charity? What do we think of when we hear the words charity? How has the concept of charity evolved over the years? Is our current definition and understanding of charity adequate and effective? Are the mechanisms leading from our current conception of charity serving us as a society? Would we be able to give the same answer to the previous question if we wanted a truly caring and compassionate society? Would a different or renewed definition and corresponding mechanisms related to charity help to lead to a more compassionate and caring society? If we had a more caring compassionate society would our need for charity in a formal sense be reduced?

Suffice to say, these questions make me think and in the end I hope will pull me through the quagmire of this conundrum.  On the surface I feel like I know the answers to some of these questions however I also know that there is never just a simple solution to truly address a complex problem.  Therefore I will hesitate and not fly through these questions haphazardly. Rather I will let them sit and see what develops.

It brings to mind one of my favorite Zen sayings:

“muddy water, let sit, becomes clear”


Irene McDermott © 2011