Is An American Tradition in Danger
It was sometime in the 1950s. I was about ten years old and each Saturday, Dad would take me and my younger brother grocery shopping. It was always quite an event, David pushing one shopping-cart and I pushing the other, as Dad filled the carts with an assortment of meats, cheese, milk and various other stuff. We were a family of seven, and often had "extended family" or friends as dinner guests, so the pantry and freezer were always well stocked.
A young Mexican couple was in front of us as we navigated the aisles, accompanied by two girls a bit younger than my brother and me. Dad noticed the woman pick something off the shelf and look to the husband. Often he would shake his head "no," and she would return the item to the shelf. As we moved to the register, the couple and their two girls were still in front of us, our carts filled to the brim while theirs was meagerly so.
My dad grew up during the Depression, and was one of sixteen kids. His folks were dairy farmers, and despite the large family, there was always food on the table, mostly home grown or raised, with soups and bread as a staple. I think that was one reason my dad always had a soft spot for the hungry - especially kids. On many Thanksgivings, my mom and dad would spend a day shopping, fill about 30 bags with turkeys and trimmings and drive a pickup truck to one of the poor neighborhoods. There, they would pass out to people on the street these simple gifts in appreciation for our own family blessings. The gracious smiles and nods of appreciation were their reward.
As we moved forward toward the checkout register, my dad took the man by the arm and gently pulled him aside. "I noticed as you were shopping, your wife would take things from the shelves and ask about them and then put them back. Are you out of work?' The man held his head high but replied, "Yes, for the moment. We just need to watch things a bit." My dad looked at the girls and reached for his wallet. "Here, take this," he said, handing the man a $100-dollar bill. "Take this. I want you to go back and get everything you put back on the shelves and put it in your basket… for the kids." "No," the man protested, "thank you, but I can't accept this." "It's ok - it's not a gift," said Dad, aware of the stranger's pride, "it's a loan. Here's my business card. I'm a builder here in town. Come and see me Monday. You have a job."
On Monday, the stranger showed up and went to work for my dad as a construction laborer. He returned the $100 from his first paycheck and continued to work for Dad for many years. He was hardworking, determined and bright - attending college in the evenings to study engineering. He rose over the years to become a carpenter, foreman, and finally, superintendent. He also obtained his college degree.
He came to my dad one day with a look of concern and said," Leonard, I appreciate all you have done for me but I have to leave. I've been offered a very good job in engineering with a big firm in Mexico, and I think I should return to accept it." My dad smiled: "Bill, it's been great having you here but you need to follow your dreams and opportunities. Take the job. We'll stay in touch."
Bill, his wife Adele, and their two daughters returned to Mexico and he went to work for the large manufacturer of electrical products. Our families did stay in touch over the years, and one day we got a phone call letting us know that Guillermo "Bill" Maldonado had been appointed Chairman of the Board of Square D Corporation International. The simple gesture in a grocery store years earlier began a cycle of friendship and success that I have always remembered and treasured. It was but one small example of the wondrous power of giving – and an example of the kind of man my father was.
Americans are giving people; it's one of the defining characteristics of an American. We are blessed with much and find joy in sharing with others in need. When someone suffers a tragedy, or experiences a loss, people from all walks and stations of life reach out to give as they can. From children to seniors, Americans open their hearts and wallets to help when disaster strikes or emergencies arise. They feed the hungry, offer clothing and shelter to those in need, and rebuild both property and lives when they are broken, with nothing ever expected in return. Americans give at the highest levels, often with their lives, to protect their way of life, and to pave the road to freedom for others a world apart.
Something has changed, however. Many have become cynical or jaded about giving. Recipients in need have too often become "victims," exhibiting a sense of entitlement rather than appreciation. Large "charitable" organizations have displaced more personal giving, and are staffed with highly paid executives living lives of opulence and privilege, in stark contrast to those they "serve." Government has seen fit to deny individuals the gift of giving, instead confiscating from them to give to others as it chooses, and its choices are often questionable. Giving is fundamentally a voluntary act; that is what makes it special. It is also personal. The pleasure of giving is in the thankful smile or grateful tears of those who benefit from simple acts of kindness. When a distant bureaucracy takes involuntarily from one for the invisible use by another, it is not giving, it is theft.
CEOs of many charitable and non-profit organizations routinely make $500,000 to over $1,000,000 annually, with other senior staff also very well paid. In addition, many charitable groups pay out far more in administration and salaries than is directed to their stated "cause." The Clinton Foundation is notorious for paying "expenses" for the Clintons, salaries of friends and serving as a conduit for funds paid personally to them for "speaking fees." Such behaviors make many less inclined to contribute - not just to these organizations, but to give at all.
In the case of government "giving" the matter is even worse. The most egregious violation, of course, is that money is not "given" by taxpayers, but confiscated from them and then doled out to favored groups at home and abroad. Citizens have no choice as to whether their money is given to some Third World country (often enriching corrupt leaders), ACORN "community activists," or some other government-determined cause. People regularly gouged in this manner by their elected representatives become angry and less likely to care about causes more deserving and closer to them.
Giving to others in need is truly its own reward. Millions of Americans give of their time and money in small ways and large every day. They are motivated by nothing more than kindness and caring for fellow human beings. God bless them all. They understand that the real answer to genuine need lies in the human spirit, not in government bureaucracies or bloated institutions. In a time when many seem to think that more government is the answer to everything, we risk undermining that spirit.
Our right to pursue happiness includes the right to give freely of ourselves to others as we see fit - it does not include the right of government to take involuntarily from us as it deems entitled.
We now have a president in Donald J. Trump who believes in giving by the people, not transferring by government fiat. From all accounts, he has exemplified that generosity in his private life, and his children have followed the same model, demonstrating the intergenerational pattern that kindness to others fosters. Under this leadership, there is hope that once again, the tradition of personal giving will return and Americans will once again be recognized around the world as the kind and generous nation of people that it we have always been.
Photo Credit: Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_halfpoint'>halfpoint / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
FROM THE FRONT
By Len Semas
Main Feature 12/5/2016)
"The only way to be loved is to be and to appear lovely; to possess and display kindness, benevolence, tenderness; to be free from selfishness and to be alive to the welfare of others. "
- John Jay