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The Holidays & Giving
The holidays are here. Personally I just can’t get over how sunny and not wet it is here in California; I guess I am still expecting the rainy Northwest winters.
In the winter, the weather can really affect us psychologically, especially if we suffer from something like Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is the time of year when we tend to hide out more, stay in, nestle down, and hibernate. The days are short and it’s dark out there.
Aside from SAD, the holidays can just be challenging for people in general. They can evoke warm fuzzies in many of us, yet conversely they can also be laced with family drama, stress, the push to buy/spend (with the accompanying money worries), and the ecological burden of over-consumption. Of course, in these economic (and ecological) hard times all of this can be heightened and more acute than usual.
What has been on my mind lately, besides what I mentioned above, is giving – philanthropic giving. The end of the year is a time when many people think about “charitable” donations.
There has been a lot of talk in the news the last few years about how, in these financially challenging times, the amounts that people donate are going down. An article in the New York Times from this October, titled Becoming Compassionately Numb, said: “About the only thing tanking faster than consumer confidence and the Greek economy would be the global compassion index, if such a measure existed.”
I wonder – is it only financial restraints that are keeping us from giving?
Global compassion index – that keeps coming back to me. I know that it can all feel daunting; our own struggles – be them financial, psychological, or otherwise – coupled with a bombardment of media about all the problems out in the world. This mix can lead to compassion fatigue, burnout, or psychic numbing.
We more readily go into a numbing mode when we are faced with massive problems that just seem to multiply and are “out there” somewhere seemingly far away from us. When the problem is up close and more personal, we are able to connect with it more and empathize more readily and realistically.
This is reflected in how we give.
This point was made clear to me while I was reading this great new book called Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change. “Ninety-eight percent of donations made in the U.S. go toward human issues (health, social services, arts, religion, and educational organizations) with only two percent going to environmental and animal protection organizations, despite the catastrophic state of our ecosystem and the fact that animals experience pain and suffering and have virtually no legal protection” explains author Nick Cooney, drawing from a 2010 Charity Navigator study.
As I look towards a new year, I am thinking about expanding my frame of reference, moving beyond my own issues, beyond “human issues”, beyond only those things that I can readily relate to. How can I skillfully work with empathy and compassionately hold all the problems I see out there without getting overwhelmed by them? How can I share what skills and privilege I have without over-tapping my reserves both psychologically and monetarily?
Here are a few resources I have found to help me in my giving endeavor:
One Percent Foundation
(These guys have an unfortunate name now that we think of the 1% as opposed to the 99%, but they are actually cool!)
Living Philanthropic – Tips for the everyday (micro) philanthropist
(This guy is a bit too hip for me, but I really like what he is doing! Some great ideas here).
The Tides Foundation – These guys seem like they are doing pretty great work; there are a lot of resources here.
All the best for 2012!