The Art of Giving | Why give?

Lurdes de Sousa*

Because giving and sharing is part of your own self. Because giving is a moral duty. Because the act of giving brings about an enjoyable feeling. Because of social justice. Because giving is not demanding. Or simply because giving is fashionable…

It’s the million-dollar question. There is no answer. Or, there is a multitude of answers. Undoubtedly, everybody has their own answer. One would probably argue that if giving is part of your life, it means that you are a generous person by nature. It also means that the sense of sharing has been transmitted to you by your family, your community, your traditions, the religion you practice, the society you live in, and so on.

Macau is a very charitable place. Because Macau has been, over the centuries, a place of cultural encounters, a place of tolerance in which different religions live harmoniously with each other (look at Macau’s official holidays calendar if in any doubt), because Macau has a tradition of being a shelter (in World War II alone, it welcomed thousands of refugees). It’s in its history. In its DNA. Macau is a charitable place. Macau people are charitable. They practice charity through a multitude of local associations and events. It’s admirable.

Charity has always existed and sometimes it has come from the most unexpected segments of society, like 20-year-old Frédéric Ozanam (1813-1853). Travelling back in time, together with his fellow students, he established the Conference of Charity with the purpose of helping the poorest. This was later renamed The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, named after a figure who dedicated his life to helping the poor in the 1500s.

The sense of sharing, the practice of charity on a larger scale through community networks, is very much embedded in Asian culture mostly through so-called SDOs, “social delivery organizations.”  Although the “art of giving” is seen as a new phenomenon in China, it has long been a tradition in China’s history. A large number of “benevolent societies” has flourished in China over the centuries, with the purpose of helping the poorest and those in need. Scholars even date them back to the late Ming period, when benevolent societies emerged as charitable institutions even though there were already charity systems by lineage organizations in place. 

Nonetheless, there is a general perception that “giving back” is very much a Western practice. It is very visible. For example, the much-awaited annual Forbes 400 list of the richest individuals in the U.S. started giving these wealthy individuals a philanthropy score in 2018, rating them from 1 to 5, with 5 being the most generous. Lately, the world-famous J.K. Rowling (author of the bestselling Harry Potter series) made the headlines for losing her billionaire status in the Forbes list as a result of her philanthropic endeavors.

So, what’s the difference between 20-years-old Ozanam, who founded a charity rooted in the Catholic church centuries ago and still operates today, and J.K. Rowling, who gave away part of her fortune to philanthropic projects? The answer is to be found in the dichotomy between charity and modern philanthropy.

Macau is a place of charity; it is not a place of modern philanthropy. Yet.

*President, Associação Internacional  de Filantropia (Macau)

國際꺽愛協會 (걜門)

Macau Daily Times is the official media partner of the Associação Internacional de Filantropia (Macau).

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