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Giving “Back?”

21 June 2011 No Comment

Hi, Aura’s House visitors! This is Aura’s House partner, Anastasia.

This weekend, I had CNN on in the background as I was doing some housecleaning and I perked up when the CNN Heroes section came on the television. I love the inspirational stories about ordinary people acting in extraordinary ways to improve the lives of the less fortunate. This particular piece mentioned several times that it was the need to “give back” that drove the project.

While I know that “giving back” is a common figure of speech which I have used on occasion myself, the phrasing has always troubled me a bit. “Giving back” carries the implication that something was taken, perhaps, without permission and implies that guilt is a contributing factor in motivating the charitable act.

It can certainly be argued that those of us in “first world countries” (another unfavorable term) do take more than our fair share of natural resources. We certainly have a lot more “stuff” and a higher standard of living than the rest of the world. But if we are good stewards of the plenty that we have and do not let our possessions define us, but rather use our blessings to help others, that is not so much a “giving back” as a “paying it forward.”

Nobody has control over where they are born or the circumstances in which they grow up. But, we do have control over how we view others who have considerably less than we do and by that, I do not mean our neighbor down the street who only has a 32 inch plasma TV when ours is 48 inches. I am talking about the family of eight sharing a one room shack with a dirt floor, the single mother who cannot afford to buy the uniforms her children need to attend school, or the toddler who is constantly ill from drinking parasite infested water.

By helping these people improve their standard of living, we are not paying “back” the universe for having won the cosmic lotto. Instead, we are paying forward the myriad kindnesses and opportunities we have been blessed with in the hopes of helping others live with dignity, in good health and with, at least, a basic education.

If they pay it forward to their neighbors and their neighbors do the same, the possibilities are endless.

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