Giving and Taking

The other day, NPR ran a story about a recent study on charitable giving. It turns out that poorer people give a significantly larger percentage of their incomes to  charity than do the wealthy. The report included interviews with people from some especially deprived neighborhoods, and the general import of their responses was empathetic: they knew first-hand how tough things can get, because they had experienced rough times first-hand.

The report made me think of a conversation a few years back with a Canadian colleague. I was curious about the differences in attitudes between Canada and the U.S. when it comes to the social safety net. Here are two countries with immensely similar histories and populations. We watch the same television programs, (mostly) speak the same language, and have remarkably similar popular cultures. Why, then, I asked, are American and Canadian attitudes so different when it comes to the need for programs guaranteeing access to healthcare? Why do the two countries have such different approaches to other social programs?

Her theory was intriguing: Canada is cold.Canada’s early settlers faced an environment that required them to share and co-operate with each other in order to survive. That reality produced a culture that recognizes the necessity and value of interdependence.

I have no idea whether my colleague’s theory is correct, but intuitively, it makes sense. And it helps to explain why people who have so little themselves seem more willing to share what they do have with their neighbors. Hardship reminds us of a truth we sometimes prefer to overlook: we’re all in this thing called life together.

Wealth–not to mention temperate climate–evidently tends to insulate us from that inconvenient truth.

1 Comment

  1. NPR’s particular tilt has been well-established in the Juan Williams firing and being caught willing to accept millions from undercover journalists posing as linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. Giving or not giving is as subject to interpretation of the source, as this week’s Pew report finding that racism is equitably on both sides of our ideologies. To former Rep. Baron Hill, some of us can be gray-haired, yet still a “domestic terrorist”.

    But, it’s not NPR’s tilt that I’m concerned about tonight. It is celebrating that of four “major” networks and PBS, it is only on PBS that I can find live coverage of the Republican convention at this hour. With David Brooks as the closest thing they can find to represent a conservative journalist, they nonetheless are making a stab at acknowledging that reporting on an ideological spectrum requires covering both ends of it.

    With too few tax dollars to go around, there are worse ways to spend it than the civic and journalistic duty of covering the political conventions that will reap our President.

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