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Charitable philanthropy or networks of care?

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graduation at arts centreI’ve been thinking about how pleasant it feels to have ample sufficiency, with enough to live on and also to help others.

I look back on my early time as a single parent on welfare with three young children as being one of quiet desperation.  It was often very difficult to meet the needs (physical and aspirational) of my children, and even more difficult to ask for help.

Our family was always so appreciative of help. I was especially grateful for what I think is the most precious gift of all, support to develop what Aristotle refers to as the “actualising of potential,” and Martin Heidegger refers to as our “authentic own-most possibilities.” For me, this involved being supported to go to university.

I notice, along with the recession, the main discourse has been on giving, on philanthropy and charity. I was supported to go to university and my university education and income has enabled me to be more supportive of others, so I feel I should be sympathetic to this kind of giving, but I’m not. The giving our family received was in the context of community, of people who knew us and what we needed. It was in a context where to be able to receive help, was itself seen by the giver as a gift back to themselves. It was a context where to give and receive was pleasurable for both parties. It enriched all our lives.

For this reason, I feel more comfortable with community-based forms of exchange, where there is a natural process of giving and receiving between people who know one another or are in environments or networks where diverse forms of care and reciprocity can exist and flourish. In its simplest form this can mean “to each according to their need, from each according to their ablity” (cf the practice of the first Christian community in Acts 2:41-47)

As John Wardle (1997) a St Albans community philosopher and practitioner rightly said: “To give, to receive and to care are some of the most important elements of worthwhile community.”

Of course, by no means everyone who has a need is fortunate enough to be linked into such networks of care, so there remains a gap for philahthropic forms of charitable giving. Perhaps, though, it would be useful to place a priority on building up such networks, including at local levels, so that there will increasingly be less need for such charity?

Another thought to ponder might be to consider how to create networks in local communities that were able to generate resources to meet some of the needs of people their localities. This will the be subject of a future Blog.

In the meantime, we would be interested in your response, links to further information and resources and of illustrations both of giving and receiving, how you felt when you gave and when you received.

Refer to Resouces page for links to material on Complementary Currencies, Time Banks, and see About Communication in the Resources page for a link to Marshall Rosenberg’s account of natural giving.

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