Is giving selfish?

/ posted in: ReadingReligion

I’ve been thinking about a point brought up in Field Notes on the Compassionate Life by Marc Ian Barasch. He is discussing people who donated one of their kidneys to a stranger. All of the donors reported being yelled at by friends and/or family and being told that they were being selfish. That seemed very strange to me. How is donating a kidney inherently selfish? The arguers’ point was that at some point a family member might need that kidney and they would have already given it to a stranger. They are being selfish by doing what they want to do instead of saving the kidney in case a relative needs it.

I think that is a horrible attitude to have but apparently it is common. Every donor interviewed reported being told that several times. Most times they said it was being screamed at them. Do most people think that way? I don’t think that would ever cross my mind. Am I weird?

I’ve been told before that I am selfish because I give my quilts away. I had a hard time following the logic there too. The lady’s point was that I give away quilts that I could sell instead. Therefore I am depriving my family of an additional (small) source of income. I guess if you want to take that to a logical end you could say that by quilting instead of working during those hours I am depriving my family. This woman was very serious that I was doing something very wrong by giving quilts to charity. (Mind you it seems perfectly fine when I give quilts to her family.) This was additionally strange because if asked to describe herself this woman would most likely self-identify as a highly moral and giving person. But it irks her to no end when I mention something about a charity.

So am I selfish? Is giving things away or working for charities entirely out of self-interest? Let’s look at the quilt example. I like to make quilts. I would by now be buried under a pile of quilts if I kept them all. So it is in my best interest to get rid of them. So maybe it is selfish. But that’s not how I usually look at it. I have them and don’t need them. Someone else can use them so I give them away.

The same thing happens with working with 4-H. I’ve had people be absolutely dumbfounded that I use my time to work with a youth program when I don’t have kids. Explanations that I like the program and think it is good for kids and I like working with horses are met with skepticism. The attitude is why give your time when not forced to?

Maybe I fall into the “giver mentality” that Barasch describes. Those are people who give without calculating the benefit-return of the act. It seems arrogant to say that. I didn’t really realize people actually worked on a “what’s in it for me?” basis before helping others. Over the years I’ve worked hard to try to remove any arrogance from helping others. I try not to talk about it too much for fear of sounding like bragging. I don’t sign the quilts even when allowed except for maybe a first name and a date it was made. I want the gift to be made as altruistically and anonymously as possible. My true goal in life is for the husband to make enough money for me to be able to set up a philanthropic organization after he dies. (After he dies because he is not of a “giver mentality”. If I was giving large amounts of money away it would kill him anyway.) Let’s not even get started on what people have said to me about wanting to adopt when I am most likely perfectly capable of having biological children…

So am I as much of a freak as this book made me feel or am I normal and the book is out of touch with reality?