I read a chick-lit/romance novel a few years ago by Pamela Morsi called Doing Good and I think it’s probably one of the biggest influence on my volunteer life. I jokingly call it my companion to the Bible, but I’m only half joking. The premise of the book is that our heroine, Jane, escapes certain death in a car accident by promising God that she’ll do good for the rest of her life if he saves her. She’s spoiled and shallow and it’s enormously hard to reset her priorities. Most of the book is romance novel classic, but there is a central tenet that I return to again and again – the Jewish code of tzedakah, or charity.
In studying how to be good, Jane learns that there are eight levels of charity, listed from the least honorable to the most. (Some of this is from wikipedia, but paraphrased)
8. Donations given grudgingly (in sadness).
7. Giving less than you should, but giving cheerfully.
6. Giving adequately after being asked.
5. Giving adequately before being asked.
4. Giving publicly to an unknown recipient.
3. Giving anonymously to a known recipient.
2. Giving anonymously to an unknown recipient via a person or public fund which is trustworthy, wise, and will perform acts of charity with your money in a most impeccable fashion.
1. Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.
When Jane is just starting to focus on good, she decided that she’ll work to earn a certain number of points each day by doing good deeds. Each level of charity has a corresponding value and she sometimes has to go searching for a few smaller opportunities to hit her daily goal total. It’s her version of “fake it ‘til you make it.” I think about this book and the idea of tzedakah almost weekly.
We talk a lot in my friend & family groups about whether thoughts equal deed and the value of a grudging favor. I’m firmly on the side of good deeds for less than loving reasons are still good deeds and better than not helping a person at all. Whether I’m rejoicing in my heart over giving you a helping hand or not, you still received the benefit of my help. I’m not talking about making you sorry you ever asked because I won’t stop talking about what an inconvenience it is for me to help, though. That’s just being a jerk and being a jerk isn’t on the hierarchy.