At this time of the year we are coming close to what is commonly called the “Season of Giving”. When we talk about giving we often hear the phrase “charity begins at home”. As far back as 1383 John Wycliffe stated that “Charity should begin at himself”. There was no gender inclusion language in those days. In the 1380’s John Wycliffe produced the first hand written English Bible manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate. While this post is about an entirely different matter, suffice to say Wycliffe’s actions were significant as they marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Yet it is Sir Thomas Browne in his book of 1642 titled the “Religio Medici” who is recognised as the source of the phrase “charity begins at home”. Browne in his book said “But how shall we expect charity towards others, when we are uncharitable to ourselves? ‘Charity begins at home,’ is the voice of the world”.
This led me to think about the generosity of Australians and their giving. I discovered that the State of New South Wales (the average spend per person) is the most charitable State (with nine postcodes). Based on postcodes Victoria has four; the Australian Capital Territory four; South Australia two and Queensland one (Chapel Hill). The top five postcodes out of 20 that are the most generous are all suburbs in Sydney. Maleny the small township where I live in Queensland is rated as number one of the top 20 postcodes for charitable giving (based on the percentage of income). However, we should not get too excited that Malenyites are wonderful givers as the percentage of taxable income is only 0.27%.
Looking more broadly at wealth and how this is linked to generosity I examined the situation with Bill Gates (co-founder of Microsoft Corporation). He is consistently ranked in the Forbes list of wealthiest people in the world. He has a net worth of $84 billion and he and his wife set up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As of January 2013 they gave $28 Billion to the Foundation, more than $8 Billion of this to improve global health. They are using their wealth to bring about change and address the injustices found across the world. Their mission is “All Lives Have Equal Value”.
Whether it was my training in social work or something in my upbringing I have always been concerned about injustice, in all its forms. To me every life has equal value and every life is significant. To be able to address inequality money counts. As I always say money matters and you can do more with more i.e. more for others. My question is if you can afford to give is this being generous? When a person has little and is generous is this a more charitable act. I will leave each reader to come to your own decision about this. For me generosity is not all about money. We can be generous with our time, giving attention to others, generous in what we say and through acts of kindness.
When I reflect on my life to date I wonder whether I was as generous as I could have been when I was younger. When I was growing up in Toowoomba my sister Susan and I would often go for school holidays to Brisbane where my paternal grandmother and aunties lived. I remember their generosity. On one occasion my sister Susan and I arrived without our suitcase (port we call it in Queensland) and Grandmother Jessie sewed clothes for us and Aunty Glady who worked in Brisbane CBD bought us home underwear and socks. The generosity of the McCart family was always evident although as a child I did not recognise it. Anyone could turn up at the home and a meal would be offered. I fondly remember Aunty Glady and Aunty Evy and their kind and generous spirits. They were not wealthy people but always giving to others. Are Bill and Melinda Gates more generous than Aunty Glady and Aunty Evy? I don’t think so.