Thursday, May 3, 2012

This little light

Several times I've heard Matthew 6:2-4 used as an explanation for why talking about giving is bad:

Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. . . . But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.

I prefer a different line from the same sermon, Matthew 5:15:

Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

Of course, neither I nor most of the people I hear referring to these verses are exactly Bible-thumpers. But it goes to show: talking about money has been awkward for a very long time.

I try to talk about it, though, because I figure saving lives is worth looking foolish. I'm aware of bystander effect, a classic of psychology research. If you stage an emergency – say, a person choking – a test subject will usually rush to help. But if a test subject is standing in a crowd of people not helping, the subject hesitates. Often they don't help at all.

Recently in a class session on writing budgets, my professor asked the class what our personal relationship with money was like. People started tentatively calling out: “In denial.” “Scared.” “I'm gonna be in debt for a long time.” The woman in the front row who's always ranting about capitalism made some comment about how money twisting us all in its evil grasp.

I said, “But money can be a tool to do you things you care about. My husband and I give away about thirty percent of our income. It works well for us.”

For a second or two there was silence. Then capitalism-rant woman turned around and said, “Wait, you give away thirty percent of your money?”

“Yeah, about that much,” I said. She blinked and turned back to the front of the room. And that was it. The lesson continued.

I felt a bit like a jerk. I know Jeff and I have a higher household income than most of my classmates in social work school. But most of them also have expenses – cars, houses, fancy weddings – that we choose not to have. We live well below our means, and that means we have no debt. We don't worry about money. We keep our needs small, with the result that we have plenty left over for things we care about more than extra bedrooms.

Maybe I just established myself as a show-off or a nutcase, but maybe I planted a seed.

1 comment:

  1. I salute you :)
    I too feel awkward at times when I share how much I give to charity (hoping I don't come off as a show-off riding on a 'moral high horse'); but I think it more important to show people what is possible. When I saw that numerous people (at Giving What We Can) were giving at east 10% I thought "if they can, so can I" and joined. I later encountered the Bolder Giving (50% to charity) people and thought "why can't I?" and joined.