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?

5 Replies to “Is giving selfish?”

  1. Thanks for recommending this book–I got it and just started reading it. It came along at the right time for me–things I’ve been thinking about.
    On another note, I just realized you’re in Ohio (duh); me, too–Cleveland.

  2. I’m in total agreement with you about how NON selfish it is to donate (time, money, crafty-goods, a part of oneself). We cannot tell the future, so to hang onto a kidney in the off chance our child (or sibling, or parent, or spouse) will someday need it, when there is obviously somebody out there NOW who needs it, THAT strikes me as selfish. And besides, what goes around comes around. I’ve never once been told I was selfish for giving away my afghans (or hat/mitten/scarf sets, or other handmade goodies) to the shelters. As a matter of fact, I’ve been told I’m TOO giving, and that I should sell some of my stuff, so that I DO make a little money, that at least then I’d be getting something for my “labor”. I don’t see it that way, and I don’t always want to know who recieves what I donate. I’d feel rather bad to have somebody who recieved a hat/mitten/scarf set come to me and say Thank you. I don’t want thanks and recognition, I just want somebody to be warm. I want those people to know that somebody cares, without feeling like they’ve got to do something for me in return. Kinda “pay it forward”. I’ll do something anonymously good for you, and hopefully someday you’ll turn around and do something anonymously good for somebody else, and so on. If these things were being donated only for the kudos you’d get for donating them, THAT would be selfish and self-centered. I don’t see anything wrong with selling one’s handicrafts (it can certainly help pay the cost of making more), but I don’t see it as selfish to give them away either. I only like to know who it’s going to, if I KNOW who it’s going to (baby shower gift, christmas present, etc).

    OT: I got to experience the sometimes nasty, definitely curious glances from people as I rode around the grocery store last night in a motorized cart. Our local grocery has 2, 1 of them wasn’t working (it’s been out of order for 3 days now and the clerks weren’t sure when it’d get fixed) and I’d just come from the hospital from having my tubes tied (had to be opened all the way up, like a c-section, though, because of a huge cyst that was discovered in the process of doing my tubal ligation) and was holding my belly and shuffling along. Started to sit down in the non-working motor-cart, but an older gentleman who was sitting in the working one (his wife is a clerk) saw me and gave me his cart, and said he’d go wait in his vehical for his wife to get off work. I got several nasty looks from other customers as I was doing a half-assed job (I had already had my 2 percaset & a 800 mg Ibuprofrin) of manuevering this motor-cart around the store, of course those who looked peeved, then looked shocked the couple of times I stood up, and shuffled over to the cooler doors to pick out what kind of tv dinners, or yogurt I wanted. But, just seeing me (27, in fairly decent shape so long as I was sitting down) in the cart made a lot of people mad, until they realized what I wasn’t as healthy as I looked right off the bat. Rather interesting to be on the other side of that fence, as you’ve commented before. For people to look at you as if you’ve got no right to be using this resource that are for obviously needy people, and you don’t look obviously needy right off the bat. I must say that whenever I’ve seen somebody in a cart like that, I’ve always assumed one of two things: a bad leg or back, or so large that they can’t move comfortably. I must say that I don’t believe I’ve ever had terribly nasty thoughts about somebody JUST because they’re in a motor-cart, but I have had semi-uncharitable thoughts, wondering if they would need to be all that fat if they’d just walk instead of riding in the cart. Won’t be thinking like that again, any time soon. *wry chuckle*

  3. I wish I had more time to really respond to this but I am just aghast. That people behave in such a manner, it’s typical but still so very outrageous. I say bravo to those generous souls.

  4. I too am a giver, so I’m not really sure I can give you an unbiased opinion. I have never been called selfish for giving though. It seems to me that the people are selfish are the ones who are calling you selfish. I have had occasions where people are disappointed / angry, etc. because I have given something away. It generally turns out that they are upset because they either wanted that particular item for themselves, or they wanted me to have made something else for them, rather than an item that I would just give away.
    I think there is joy in giving something away, and a joy in making something that you are giving to someone in particular, so in that case, you are deriving pleasure in the giving. But doesn’t that happen at any gift, whether you buy it or give it. It is a side benefit, not the motivation for the giving, in my case, and I suspect in your case as well.

    The kidney example is so far-fetched. Unless you come from a family history of kidney problem, or know someone in your family is having problems where they might need a kidney, then of course you should feel free to share a kidney. It’s the most unselfish thing. Definitely the people who want it saved for them are being selfish.

  5. 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?

    I can’t answer that. I can say that I agree with most of your points (except the kid thing, because I don’t want them I haven’t really thought about those issues). The only real argument for giving your quilts away/giving to charity/giving away organs being selfish is this: I actually enjoy sharing my crafts, and whatever I have, with others. Not only do I feel it is my responsibility, but it makes me happy to share. I guess you could call that selfish.

What Do You Think?