A Generosity Question

A student asked the other day about our “pet causes,” the social justice issues we are personally most passionate about.  It’s a tough question for anyone on my staff; we care about a lot of causes very much.

But I think if I had to pick one (in the U.S.), I’d say I’m most passionate about the working poor, people who work well over 40 hours a week yet struggle to make ends meet.

Of course, this is also a way to not really pick one thing, because if we want to engage with this population, we must think through layer of issues:  living wage, immigration, educational access.

I also believe it requires us to think about generosity versus stinginess.  Am I ever willing to pay more in order to ensure that other people have more access to opportunity?

The Harvest / La Cosecha

Recently, The Atlantic overviewed the film The Harvest.  The documentary focuses on child migrant farmers, used in 48 states.  One piece of commentary from the author Helene Young really struck me.

This isn’t a slavery issue, or an immigration issue per se. What’s remarkable is that most of the migrant child farmworkers are American citizens trying to help their families. This is a poverty issue and it gets to the heart of what we, as consumers, see as the “right price” to pay for food.

I have expectations about the “right price” of food, clothes, coffee, and if I’m brutally honest, I have entitlement issues about those prices.  How dare they charge me more?

Of course, part of this is my distrust of large vendors, who I believe are benefitting from the mark-up.  I don’t always believe those higher prices put more money in the pockets of those who did the hardest work.  But if I knew it did, would I be willing to pay?

A lovely series.

In The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, I remember how the main character, Mma Precious Ramotswe, comes to a point where she can employ a house keeper.  Rather than seeing this as some sort of snobby point of arrival, she is grateful to be in a place where she can provide a valuable job to another member of her community.  She is proud to be supporting someone else through honest work.  In fact, in her culture, it’s shameful to have the means of employing another person and refuse to do so.  It’s ungenerous.

I know this might all seem like an ploy to get myself a house cleaning service.  While I’d love one, that’s not really the point. Promise.

What if we saw generosity like Mma Precious, not just in terms of tax-deductible gifts to 501(c)3’s, but also in terms of a willingness to pay more for products and services created by the hard work of another person?  What if we chose not to see ourselves as getting a bad deal, but as community members supporting one another and honoring they way we all labor in order to provide for people we love?

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