Times are brutally hard and we are all caught among conflicting demands on our resources, both financial and emotional. Charity comes from caritas as does "care." How much can we care, for whom? We say "charity starts at home." Robert Frost said, "Home is where when you go there, they have to take you in." Charity or care, or the obligation to care, starts at home with self reliance. We take care of ourself first, then those who depend on us, blood kin. We teach children to stop their crying and take care of their own self first, before asking for help. "The weak perish," we tell the sniveling kid, "and the strong survive." Then, probably we reach down to help.
Balanced in the American tradition with self reliance is mutual aid. If we take care of ourselves and our own, we may still be in trouble, when things turn bad. So, we take care of each other when one is down, and we say that turn about is fair play. We call that being neighborly. Barn raising, quilting bees, casseroles for the bereaved.
Robert Frost in "Mending Wall" gets the balance down to an image or a moment, annually repeated. Two farmers, probably with little more than a wary nod in greeting, meet each spring at their property line, between me and mine, thee and thine, and raise up the boulders that have fallen. One works from one side of the line, his neighbor from the other. So, they cooperate in mutual aid to rebuild the property line that divides them. The line is needed so that apple trees don't cross over from one side to the other.
In this time, with our own money more scarce, we draw back to our side of the line and take care of our own first. But the pull of mutual aid is there too, and the need to keep the social contract intact, like that stone wall. Each of us can do, maybe, a little bit more in the spirit of mutual aid. Whether we can or not, and how much, requires a careful inventory of our own capacities, and an eye to how much is enough for ourselves and those who depend on us. Charity starts with self reliance at home. Then there is the part about mutual aid, since what goes around comes around, and our time of dire need may come too.
How much, how, when and whether to give and for what purposes are the work of the advisor in philanthropy trained in the financial sciences. Now might be a good time to consult with such an advisor. I did not mean this to be an advertisement for the American College's Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy program, but I guess it turned into one. I am thinking about how that program can be redesigned to meet an immediate need and to answer to an ideal. Self-reliance and mutual aid seem close to bedrock, not in nature, maybe, since the boulders are strewn each spring as the earth heaves with frost, but natural in that we rebuild a just society each time it falls down. Ants do that with their anthill too, as Aristotle pointed out in discussing the just City.
What would America be like if we let mutual aid go, and went just with self-reliance? Not walls mended with boulders but with razor wire. So, let's meet at the property line between me and thee and rebuild what is falling apart.