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Teach Your Children Well: Redefining “Charity” as “Justice”

Child raising, Family, Relationships | November 24th, 2008 No comments

Give if it feels good? In Hebrew, the word for charity actually emerges from the root word for Justice. Perfect isn’t it? We are not just talking about a nice thing to do. The spirit moved you and you acted charitably. Great! What if the spirit doesn’t move you? Are you not responsible for acting justly in this world? I sound a little strident don’t I? I am not trying to get biblical here.

I just think that if we rely on charity we are hoping that people will be inspired to give, to serve this world. Some people are more inclined to tap into that capacity than others. If, on the other hand, we are pursuing justice, well, it seems like we can teach people to be just. I am really not preaching. I am simply thinking like a mother.

Take Pride in Your Children’s Natural Instincts

I have two boys who amaze me constantly with their capacity for giving. I see my boys when they were toddlers holding out their teddy bears, and other cherished toys, to offer to a friend’s child. For years, every summer and winter the three of us would roll up our sleeves and enthusiastically clean out the toys so that we could deliver them to children in need. (I will never forget the winter break when my older son was about eight and he suggested it as a “fun” activity we could do together). When my children come into some “extra money” from their grandparents they start planning on gifts for each other and for us. Really, I am crying here in Barnes and Noble as I realize what a gift my children’s giving nature has given to me.

Teach Your Children Well

So, is this charity or justice? Well as parents we are not taking chances. When we started to give our sons their allowance, the stipulation was that 10 per cent got put aside for charitable giving. (Mind you for most of their childhood their allowance has been $1/week so it took awhile for that tithe to amount to anything!) We sent our children to middle schools where there was a service requirement. Our older son visited a boy with autism weekly for two years until the boy’s parents had to send him to live away from home. In high school now, he assists weekly at a creative arts program for children with autism. Our younger son trained to be a clown. Most Sundays he was at a local hospital or elder care home entertaining residents with jokes and song. This past summer he volunteered at a week long summer camp for children with special needs.

I whole-heartedly believe in the power of charitable giving and I also know that as a parent I am responsible for teaching my children how to create a just world. We haven’t been as consistent as I would like but over the years, as a family, we have delivered meals to home-bound elderly, served at soup kitchens and packaged meals for the hungry. I recently heard of a community in the northeastern United States that surveyed its population and discovered that its members were giving over $13 million dollars to causes outside of their own community.

Let’s Serve Up Some Justice in our Communities

Imagine if every community actually gave to its own. It feels like we have come upon a time when we are going to need an awful lot of justice in our cities and towns to enable the less fortunate among us to live dignified lives. I want my kids to be equipped to respond. And yours too. I think that all of our families are the hope of the future. Three resources that have recently inspired me:

The White Envelope Project: founded by four siblings, they encourage others to do something for someone else and in lieu of a gift, give your friends and family a white envelope with the story of what you did.

The Three Big Questions for A Frantic Family: Leadership Guru Lencioni encourages all families to start by asking the question: What makes your family unique?

You identify the core values that serve as the foundation for your family. It is who you are without even thinking. I intend to start this conversation in our own family. I’ll let you know what happens.

Photo by angela7dreams.

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