If I give to my fellow human being, but do so involuntarily, he will eventually know. If I give to my fellow human being, but do so to satisfy my own ego, seeing him only as a statistic or a project or an inferior or a stereotype or member of a group, he will eventually know. He will infer these things from observing that I do not have direct interaction with him, nor seek detailed knowledge of him, nor express personal concern for his individual wellbeing and improvement, nor let him know anything about myself that establishes an equal footing of mutual knowledge. And if I do make efforts to know him, to communicate with him, to in any way feign or effect a friendship with him, but then capitalize on these efforts to advertise my magnanimity to others, he will eventually come to know this too. He will know that I do not, in short, have a pure and real relationship with him. I will not have sought with all my heart, intellect, and energy the best way to love him as I love myself, as the platinum and golden rules require, which seeking takes the form, wherever possible, always insofar as possible, of a relationship.
What ensues in the absence of such a relationship between giver and recipient seems subtle at first, but its harm cannot be overestimated. In the absence of any attempted relationship between giver and recipient of charity, the following dynamic will always tend to develop:
First, the recipient of charity, realizing the charity is not motivated by love, nor given in the context of a relationship, will rightly come to distrust the giver of charity as not purely concerned with the recipient’s wellbeing as a unique person with unique needs, merits, potentials, destinies.
Second, the recipient of charity, rightly distrusting the giver of charity, will reciprocate what he perceives as the giver’s lack of love. The recipient, to justify accepting the gift of an unloving giver, will tend more and more to see the giver as undeserving in the first place of whatever he has given, be it time, talent, energy, money, or other resources. He will cease to see the giver as capable of suffering and thus the gifts as significant losses to the giver. He will begin to think of the giver’s resources as rightfully his, the recipient’s, and his receiving of these resources a rectification of some generic injustice, fully deserved and correct regardless of the giver’s willingness or the recipient’s degree of true need or merit. If he has been seen as merely part of a group, he will think of the giver as merely part of a group. If he has been seen as an inferior, he will think of the giver as an inferior. And so on.
Third, the giver of charity, seeing that the charity given has only increased the recipient’s demand, will come to infer that the recipient views him, the giver, as a parasite views his host.
Fourth, the giver of charity, seeing the recipient’s lack of love, will reciprocate, tending more and more to view the recipient as undeserving of whatever he has been given. He will cease to see the recipient as capable of suffering, and the gifts as truly needed by the recipient. He will begin to think of more and more of his resources as being deserved only by him, the giver, and his hoarding of these resources a rectification of some generic injustice, fully deserved and correct, regardless of any true need or merit on the part of the recipient.
Thus does charity without relationship always result in the mutual distrust, hostility, and dehumanization of class alienation. Whereas the light of reason and unimpeded relationships would reveal that some poor people are honest, some not, and likewise some rich people honest, some not, and all equals in having fallen short of moral perfection; whereas reason would dictate that therefore I must judge the need and merit of each person individually, through intimate knowledge, and assume none my moral inferior; rather, once the state of class alienation has begun, charity ceases to derive from relationships and reason.
In this alienated state, if I am a recipient of charity, I literally cannot see the benefactors who support me as individuals, and thus cannot judge them fairly, as to whether they give out of love, and as to whether they come by their resources honestly. But I shall somehow judge them, for they have made themselves a significant presence in my reality, and the human animal always evaluates those whose lives touch upon his own. And so I must judge my benefactors as a group. Now, two judgments are then possible–I can judge the givers en masse as mostly deserving of their resources and loving in their reasons for giving. Or, I can judge them as mostly undeserving of their resources and corrupt in their reasons for giving. The former conclusion places an impossibly infinite sense of indebtedness and inferiority upon me as the recipient of their charity, for I can never repay a countless number of benefactors deserving of repayment–I can’t even countenance my own self worth in relation to such a group. And so I will always tend to choose the other judgment–that my benefactors are, on the whole, undeserving of their resources, and corrupt in their reasons for giving.
And this process of othering, of group-judging and group condemnation, inherent in this state of alienated charity, works both ways. For if I’m one of the givers, and cannot judge the recipients of my charity individually, I will nevertheless, as a human animal, judge them. And I can hardly bear to contemplate that a mass of poor humanity without name or number, could all be deserving of my resources–just as the poor person does not want to feel infinitely indebted, nor his sense of self worth effaced, so I as a giver cannot countenance an infinite legitimate demand on my resources, threatening to lay claim to everything I have. And so I will always tend to choose the other judgment–that my recipients are, on the whole, undeserving of my resources, and corrupt in their reasons for taking my charity.
This is the dynamic that tends to develop where charity takes place outside of love, and the alienated state that ensues in a society where this form of charity becomes the norm. But the obvious alternative does exist: charity through relationship. The only way to illustrate this form of charity may be with an exemplum. My great-great-uncle Jay Smith owned much of a rural Kansas county in the 1950s, including several housing units. Each of his tenants he knew personally, intimately, as friends. When any of said tenants fell upon hard times, they would ask Jay personally for a reprieve from their rent payment, only so long as needed, after which the tenant would try to make up for missed payments. Jay would always oblige, taking the tenant at his word, knowing the tenant saw Jay as a fellow human being, who suffered the lack of rental income just as surely, if not nearly as sharply, as the tenant himself suffered from being short on money; furthermore, the tenant knew Jay truly felt for the tenant’s plight, and Jay knew the tenant knew this. In short, their relationship had enough compenetration to ensure that each could not think of his own self and wellbeing except by including, in his moral calculus, the other as a key factor. The tenant and Jay both suffered a loss of income together, because they were mutually honest about their resources and how they spent those resources–the tenant truly needed a break; he was not overstating his need in the slightest. And Jay truly needed the rent money, because he charged not a dollar more than he needed to cover his expenses, fund other honest projects upon which other community members depended for their own pay, and have enough left over to put food on his own table. Their high degree of mutual knowledge and interaction served to ensure mutual empathy, mutual accountability, and shared goals. And all of this–the tenant’s lack of greed, Jay’s lack of greed, their mutual honesty, their mutual desire to see the tenant thrive and Jay thrive, their mutual respect for each other’s resources–all of this had as its necessary and sufficient condition, a real relationship between the tenant and Jay. The tenant was Jay’s neighbor. Jay worked to know the neighbor as he knew himself. He thereby could love the neighbor as he loved himself. This is the essence of the platinum and golden rules, and the essence of the principle,
Charity requires relationship.
It should go without saying that I must never use this principle to excuse myself from charity. Where I have but little time, energy, talent, money, or other resources for an act of charity, the act of charity in that instance is just as necessary, but the degree to which a relationship can be inculcated may be greatly curtailed. Wherever possible, always insofar as possible, I must accompany my gift with whatever attempts at relationship I can. Some solon has said that the greatest act of charity takes place between two people who never discover each other’s identity. Whoever said this did not remember humanity’s infinite capacity for ingratitude. How many times do I fail to feel thankful for the ten thousand blessings large and small, concrete and abstract, that attend my every day alive? If one more anonymous blessing were to befall me upon that ten thousand, would I be even one ten-thousandth more likely to erupt into gratitute, into an awareness of God or Providence or the power of love? No, I wouldn’t. We are all animals as much as spirits, and thus we are hardwired for, and always at risk of, devolving into ingratitude, mutual distrust, an exploitative attitude, a warfare mentality, wherever we detect that a gift is not given out of agape love. Agape love is the one thing we will buy into at the price of our own self-bias. And we are never so sold on this love as when it advertises with a face, and never so sold on a face as when we’re sure it belongs to a fellow suffering human being.