This week has been a tough week for me. More emotionally than physically, but I felt utterly and completely EXHAUSTED when I got home last night. I suppose it's due to the time of year, and the week before the week before Christmas break is always a little tough.
Christmas is my, hands down, most favorite time of the year, however it comes with it's share of upset and heartbreak. I am so thankful that I get to be with my family and that we always have such a wonderful Christmas, but I also like to think about others that aren't so fortunate and try and do something that might make their lives a little happier around this time of year.
Although, around this time of year, there's just so many charities, fundraisers, food drives, etc. that it gets a little overwhelming. It feels like all I'm ever hearing is "bring money for this" and "please donate to that", and I have to admit that I start to get a little disheartened as I put something else on my shopping list or take way more money out of my Christmas budget than I intended.
One thing I do pride myself on, though, is that I haven't adopted the "What's in it for me?" mentality. What do I mean by that? Well, let's look at some examples...
For the past couple of years, I have adopted a child off of the Angel Tree. This is something I love to do because it's completely anonymous and the only benefit I get out of the whole thing is knowing that I helped make a child's life more happy on Christmas Day.
I like to put my change and a couple of dollar bills in to the red kettles outside the stores, because it's my way of doing a little something for the people that money will feed.
I like to donate food to food drives because I want to help make sure people have food on their tables this time of year.
Now, the argument could be made that I should be doing stuff like this all year long, but if that were the case, I'd be broke. I like to give back, but I don't have the financial means to support charities and causes all year long. HOWEVER, I do a lot of giving throughout the year when I buy school supplies for students who can't afford them. I buy over priced junk from catalogs to help with school fundraisers, and then end up giving that junk away to my kiddos or someone else that might enjoy it. I put in when I can, and try my best to help out whenever I'm needed.
But, getting back to my original subject, one thing I have noticed with each passing year is that we are living in a society that is more focused on the phrase "What's in it for me?" By that, I mean that there has to be some incentive or reward for donating in order to get people to donate...and I think that's sad. It's so much harder to get people to donate or give just for the good feelings of doing so, and that breaks my heart.
I work in a school that has a very high poverty rate, and a lot of the fundraising and donating we do is for our community and the students we serve. That's a blessing in itself, and there are immediate paybacks to our efforts. We can see how our dollars and donated items are helping, and that's a great return on investment.
It's hard, though, when we ask our students to donate and give. I often feel bad asking for donations from the very students who may be on the receiving end of those donations, but it's just something we do. It's a great lesson in charity and giving, and I'm always preaching that what goes around, comes around. By helping others, some day that help will be returned in some form. It may not be directly related to the person they originally helped, but I am a firm believer that by being kind and generous has a true investment in to a day whenever they may need a little help in return.
I guess that in itself is a form of doing something to get something. But, let's not get focused on that for now, OK?
What I am noticing more and more with each passing year is the fact that I hear the words "What's in it for me?" far too often. If there's not some immediate reward or incentive, then it's much harder to get someone to give.
Each year, it's quite common for me to spend quite a bit of money on a basket that we put together for a silent auction that we have at our Christmas concert. It's supposed to be something done as a class, but it gets harder and harder to get my kiddos to donate to the cause.
My first year, I had a great turnout of donations and supplies given by my kiddos. I offered no incentive or reward, I just sent out notes to parents and started watching the supplies come in. Last year, it was more of a fifty-fifty split. About half of my class donated, and I payed for the rest. This year, for three weeks I tried to gather donations and not a single thing came in. Each time I mentioned it to my class, I was met with at least one student asking what they got if they brought stuff in for the basket. When I told them there was nothing being given back, I saw nothing come in. So, I decided to start selling little items. I went out and bought some things to sell and started selling, and I was shocked at how quickly those items disappeared. I was able to make a little profit to spend on the basket.
Last week, we did a Penny War for the Shop for a Cop program. For the first three days, our jar sat empty in our classroom. I put some change in there in hopes of generating some participation, but again I was met with "What do we get if we raise the most money?" The announcement was made on the third day that donuts and extra recess would be given to the class that raised the most money, and the last two days my tub was filled to the brim. My class raised over $75 in change the minute free donuts and extra recess was announced.
This week, we have been trying to do a canned food drive. My poor box has sat empty since day one, because there is no prize or reward for the most food collected. No matter how much I try and throw out the incentive of the feelings that come from giving, or how nice it is to help others in need, the box still sits with not a single can or item. I am told by my students that their parents don't have the means to donate to causes like that, but when the snack cart comes around, I'm shocked at the wads of cash that appear from their pockets so they can purchase items.
And all of this isn't a dig at my students, or their families. It's not their fault. Our society as a whole is being raised in to a generation of giving to receive. It's so sad, but from my own observations a very real and factual statement. I, myself, was raised with this mentality. My mother constantly preached about how hard she worked for every dollar she earned, and that she didn't make that money to just hand it off to others. I was quite educated in the benefits and handouts offered by the government, and was never taught about giving back or helping others in need when the opportunity presented itself. Poverty rates continue to rise, and less and less people have the means to donate. When a little good comes in to our lives, it's very hard for us to justify giving it away without anything in return. Some of us have gone through some very hard times and turned out just fine, so others will too, right?
I can see both sides of the story. I understand that there's just SO many charities and fundraisers, that people get disheartened and tired of constantly giving. I understand that some families work extremely hard for every dollar that comes in, and the thought of handing over money with nothing in return is just something that can't be done. I understand that many people are in the mindset that if people are in need, they should do something about it and shouldn't be sitting around and waiting for a handout.
I get all of that, I do.
But, I think there are important lessons that are being lost with the shift in our society's mindset. Love thy neighbor, give unto others as you would have them do unto you, count your blessings, etc.
When my own daughter takes the $1 I've given her to buy a candy bar and puts it in to the red kettle at Walmart, there are no words to describe that moment. When she is able to justify her giving with the fact that she gets plenty of candy, yet maybe another child might get a candy bar who hardly ever gets candy...the message comes loud and clear. I'm doing something right.
She is able to look at the fact that she has what she needs, and she's willing to give up a candy bar if it means helping out someone else. A dollar might not be a great deal, but it's something.
And I'm definitely not saying that all kids should be forking over all of their candy money to help out those in need, but just think about the impact that could be made if every child handed over $1 to help out one charity? With the understanding that they will receive nothing for their donation but the good feelings that they were able to help in a small way.
I know I will probably offend some people with this blog post, and for that I'm sorry that you feel this way. Again, I'm not digging at anyone or trying to out anybody in a negative way. I'm not trying to rally everyone up to get out there and start handing over cash and items immediately.
I'm definitely no saint in all of this. Sure, I've done a few things to help out. I could do a lot more. I paint myself with this glorious martyr picture, but I am too very guilty of uttering the words "What's in it for me?" I have sighed, whined, and complained my way through many situations where I just didn't want to do anymore. I have accused and judged... heck, I'm really doing that right here with this post. I'm not perfect, and I don't think myself so. I am guilty of doing the very things I share with you right now. I don't put money in to every collection bin, I don't give to every charity, and I am also guilty of speaking my mind when it comes to various charities and organizations. I have my own lessons that I could learn from my own advice. It also doesn't help with the negative picture I paint on society. We hear quite often about corrupt charities, people playing the system, and the rich getting richer while the poor continue getting poorer. It's no wonder so many people have a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to giving.
All I'm saying is, wouldn't it be nice if there was a different mindset? I wish I could make all the poverty struggles disappear. I wish that I could make sure that every single child has food, comfortable shelter, and a few toys to open on Christmas Day. I wish that there were jobs available for everyone, and nobody ever had to worry about how their needs are going to be met.
I wish I could do all of those things, but I can't.
All I can do is small, little gestures that may not be a whole lot in the grand scheme of things... but they hopefully help a little.
Because, at the end of the day, I am just as guilty as everyone else in asking the question "What's in it for me?"
However, what I'm realizing more and more is that I am perfectly happy with the answer just being: You helped.
Have a good Saturday, everyone!