A Song Off Key: Why I Give

Today is Giving Tuesday. But I’m not going to tell you to give. If you want to, I will celebrate your decision. I will give you high fives & maybe even buy you one of those gas station butter tarts if you’re into it. But this day is just like any other, and whether you come to a decision to give on this day or any of the other 364 days, what brings you to give is truly a unique decision.

I have always been a giver. Perhaps to a fault. It may have been how I was raised or how I was born, but the particular ratio of nature vs. nurture doesn’t really matter in this case. It’s something inside of me that drives me. The way some people are driven to become doctors or NHL hockey players or have the biggest collection of Beatles memorabilia, I was driven to give. And probably much like those driven to be doctors or athletes or Beatles fanatics, I am frequently asking myself why.

Why, in a world where bad shit happens consistently and seemingly more frequently?

Why, in a world where so very few have a disgusting overabundance while a horrifying overabundance have nothing?

Why, in a world where people are trampled when trying to buy half price blenders and Xboxes, while the people who put the blenders and Xboxes on the shelves can’t afford to feed their kids?

Why give in a world so dead set on taking?

This time of year hits me hardest. The taking. It’s everywhere. On the street, in the shops, in my mailbox, in my spam folder, on my Twitter feed, in my newspaper, Jesus… it’s even around my dining room table. What’s most frightening: it’s in my own heart. It makes it hard for me to breathe some days. For this entire month, I am on the edge of tears.

It doesn’t help that my memories of this time of year are so different. I’m not that old, but it was so different when I was a kid. This was my favourite time of year because it meant I could give openly and fiercely, carefully and thoughtfully. From the time I was a tiny child, my heart sang at the opportunity to give to everyone in my tiny world. I was as grateful for every opportunity to give as I was for every opportunity to receive. And I was the only girl and youngest of three children: I received so very much.

Now that I am a certified grown up (I have the certificate, it’s from the University of Phoenix’s Online School of Public Policy & Shopping for Car Insurance), what came so naturally as a child is something that rattles in my brain like pathological sickness, an ache in my chest, a wild bout of indigestion that keeps bringing up the same old question: why give?

One of my favourite filmmakers Hayao Miyazaki once said

When I say “hero” do not picture someone with the strength to fight and conquer evil – because evil is not something that can ever be conquered or defeated. Evil is natural, it is innate in all humans. But while it can’t be defeated, it can be controlled. In order to control it and live the life of a true hero, you must learn to see through eyes unclouded by hate. See the good in that which is evil. And the evil in that which is good. Pledge yourself to neither side but vow instead to preserve the balance that exists between the two.

Why give? It feels overwhelmingly hopeless, and even when that charity tells you that you can make a difference, you might suspend your disbelief for a moment long enough to open your wallet, but that feeling passes quickly. Like after a wild one-night stand, I think each of us does a walk of shame after we give. There is not remorse for giving, but the dread that nothing we as individuals give will ever be enough.

Pain and suffering and unbalance abound.

And we continue to be numbed by the world around us.

Good God, Sheena, this is bleak. Do you really look at the world this way? I couldn’t stand it, you’re so lacking hope. I fight that balance within myself as we all do. My battle is between the curmudgeonly old crone with a misanthropic world view and the tiny, scruffy-headed little girl who fell in love with the people she encountered on her journey and needed to give them something.

And each time that scruffy-headed little girl wins, I inch towards balance. In truth, I believe the world inches toward balance in the unique moments when we each decide to give.

Indeed, every time that piece of us wins, every time we muster the strength to give, we fight to preserve a balance. We each make these decisions daily, in small and in large ways. I think for some of us, giving comes very easily, and for others it is very difficult. For those of you to whom giving comes easy, judge not those for whom it is difficult. In them wages a battle. Of apathy, of misanthropy, of disgust, of disbelief, of simply wanting to turn it off and focus on the things they can take care of. This battle rages in you, too – you perhaps have had the luck to walk a path that confronts this hopelessness and cynicism much less often.

So this Giving Tuesday, if you decide to give, good for you. Great for you! You are joining in with many others who are, for a variety of reasons, doing the same. If you’re not, if you can’t, if you won’t, that is okay too. Because some day I believe you will come to a critical moment where you make the decision to give, and even if the moment is fleeting and does not quell your desire to see something wonderful happen and slay that which holds you back, I will celebrate you.

The truest philanthropic movement is going to begin inside each of us, not on a prescribed day, but in a moment where we make the difficult choice to give in a world that just keeps taking, regardless of the outcome. The song of humanity is not a choir of universal harmony. It’s millions of courageous notes sung slightly off key, in off-kilter moments when we are moved enough to open our mouths and make sound.

Goddammit guys, that would be a truly beautiful song.