- The voluntary giving of help to those in need.
- Kindness and tolerance in judging others.
- Archaic: love of humankind
When we think about charity we often think of the first definition – voluntary giving of help to those in need. Charity organisations certainly aim to do this and many do extraordinarily good work. I’m especially drawn to those who focus upon research, such as Breakthough Breast Cancer.
I believe the solution to the problem called find a cure for cancer lies in more research effort, more accurate tests to detect risks and improved treatments to prevent the proliferation of rogue cells. By stopping the disease from taking hold, we would in time see an end to harsh regimes like chemo and radiotherapy. I believe such research may also pay dividends when understanding and tackling other forms of critical and chronic disease. Today remission is the best status most cancer patients and Doctors can hope for and whilst that’s better than nothing, frankly it’s not good enough.
As with everything in life, it also pays to be a little cautious. Charity donations such as the ribbon campaigns (for all critical and chronic illnesses) have, in some senses, become bandwagons. Take care with your £’s, $’s, ¥’s, €’s; ensure your hard-earned cash makes its way to the charity of your choice not the coffers of a commercial enterprise. Charity cards are one of the worst examples I can think of; often less than 10% of the purchase price is donated to the charity concerned. The same is frequently true of fashion items, accessories and jewellery. Caveat emptor – buyer beware.
The second definition of charity, kindness and tolerance in judging others also struck a chord for me. Almost all cancers are disfiguring in some way or another; where possible surgery is used as the main weapon to ‘cure’ this insidious disease. As anyone who has had an operation knows, surgery leaves scars. With luck and over time the scars begin to fade but our bodies are never quite the same again. For some people this is of little concern; they’re relieved to have a dysfunctional body part removed and see their scars as signs of conviction; a battle fought and won. For others even when the physical scars fade the emotional and psychological wounds remain raw and painful. We all react differently, we all have different coping mechanisms and we all have different views on body image and attractiveness.
Kindness and tolerance are essential in helping people come through their diagnosis, treatments and life beyond cancer. I don’t like to highlight this rather sorry state of affairs but self-confidence and self-worth are crucial when living in a world that has become very dog-eat-dog. The media continue to be guilty of creating false idols; images of perfect people with bodies most of us can never aspire to when 100% fit and healthy (because they’re air-brushed, photo-shopped and in essence FUBAR). Charity, the third heavenly grace, suggests we need to be more honest. Perfect people don’t exist in the real world; people with scars whether physical, emotional or psychological are the real world. I urge that they should not be forsaken, made to feel less worthy, less attractive or less confident because kindness and tolerance are reserved for the few, not the many.
The archaic definition of charity, love of humankind, is my personal favourite.
This Christmas I’ve been inundated by the love of humankind and I feel very humbled. Gifts of shawls, scarves, beautiful toiletries, candles, gloves, books, chocolate, jewellery, trinkets, food, flowers, music, love and friendship have been bestowed upon me by so many generous and wonderful people. The material gifts are beautiful, all will be cherished; but the most cherished gifts are those of love and friendship. They are priceless and irreplaceable.
I hope to extend the archaic meaning of charity, paying it forward through my love of humankind to those who are dear to me throughout the year ahead. I extend this meaning to the natural world too, the non-human animals of our planet are worthy of my love, kindness and tolerance as are the lakes and mountains, forests and glades. I’m not sure if heaven exists; if it does I may not qualify for entry because I’m not a perfect person. I cuss, I get frustrated and I could be more tolerant from time to time. Even if there’s nothing beyond this life I’ll continue to practice the heavenly grace of charity. I was taught practice makes perfect; I still have time to strive for improvement as do many of the rest of our humankind.