“A man of humanity is one who, in seeking to establish himself, finds a foothold for others and who, desiring attainment for himself, helps others to attain” (Confucius).
IT WOULD BE IMPOSSIBLE TO HAVE A VIRTUOUS CHARACTER AND NOT BE CONCERNED ABOUT THE PUBLIC WELFARE. As Confucius observed, an honorable man does not climb without helping others find a foothold. And that is what philanthropy is all about: helping our fellow citizens attain what we’re trying to attain.
There are, obviously, many problems associated with philanthropy, problems that cause many to shy away from the whole idea. First, there is the problem of less-than-honorable motives. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “If all alms were given only for pity, all beggars would have starved long ago.” And then, there is the problem of unintended consequences. Sometimes our generous impulses lead us to give help in a way that ends up doing more harm than good. And these are just two of the problems; there are many more. All things considered, genuine philanthropy requires a great deal of wisdom, perhaps more wisdom than any of the other virtues.
But although philanthropy is fraught with difficulty, we must not let ourselves become cynical about it. Steering clear of the problems, we don’t want to swing to the opposite extreme and come to be known for practicing misanthropy. The old Chinese proverb is true: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” The difficulty of doing good wisely is no excuse for not doing any good at all.
There are two things we need to understand about philanthropy. First, it is not just for the rich. Our means may be more limited than the fabulously wealthy, but we are still responsible for doing what we can. Second, philanthropy is not just about money. Things like time and effort are often more needed than our financial help.
Good deeds must be done outwardly, but philanthropy is as much a matter of the heart as it is of the hands. It has to do with a spirit, an attitude, a way of thinking. And in the end, the best philanthropy comes from a high-quality character on the inside of us.
“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there” (Robert M. Pirsig).