According to the Merriam Webster dictionary philanthropy is an “altruistic concern for human welfare and advancement, usually manifested by donations of money, property, or work to needy persons, by endowment of institutions of learning and hospitals, and by generosity to other socially useful purposes.” And from the same source poverty is defined as “the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor; indigence.” So in the case of poverty “philanthropy” would most likely refer to the donation of money or time in order to aid those who live in poverty. But the catch is the single word “altruistic”. Altruistic is used to refer to an unselfish devotion to the welfare of others. This ten letter word is what holds a large number of donors back from being considered philanthropists. There are huge numbers of people in the United States that donate to foundations and organizations with the cause of helping the less fortunate but they do it for the poor or for themselves? A large problem that I see in the American society is the lack of genuine concern for the poor. It is politically and socially “correct” to aid the lower class; so do people make donations for the sake of helping humanity or for their own sense of well being and tax deductions? If the only way to raise large amounts of money to aid the impoverished is to guilt trip the rich and offer benefits then I am all for it, but it can not be considered true philanthropy.
Only if people have a genuine concern for the poor and give their time or money with no ulterior motives can their actions be labeled as philanthropic. I do believe that there are people in the world who legitimately care about those less fortunate than themselves and seek to aid them, not simply because it is the right thing to do but because they have a personal conviction that leads them to aid their less fortunate brothers and sisters. Only then, when there is a true lack of self concern can donations and efforts be classified as acts of philanthropy.
I, similar to Nancy Mairs’ in her work “On Being a Cripple”, believe that the time has come to abandon old euphemisms designed to be soft on the ears of the rich and refer to the people who live in poverty in terms that truly described who they are. But what should that word be? In this blog I have used the euphemisms such as “the less fortunate”, “the lower class”, and “the impoverished” but these words do not express the human-hood of the men and women living in those conditions. They do not create the mental image of a woman sleeping on a grate above the subway or a man walking the streets in desperation as though guided by the hope that if he walks far enough he will find what he has always been searching for. These people are not simply “the poor” they are men and women, boys and girls, who have little or nothing to call their own. They need our help, not simply the help of the rich who feel better about themselves when they give but the help of people who see beneath the title and into the eyes of their fellow human beings.