Americans are among the most charitable and conscientious people on earth, but it is highly ironic that this gets lost beneath an avalanche of selfishness during a time often referred to as the “giving season.”
Perhaps the best new development in recent years, then, is the concept of #GivingTuesday. We use the hashtag and compound word because that is how the movement refers to itself on social media, and it is through social media that it is taking root and spreading.
Simply put, the movement encourages people to turn the Tuesday after Thanksgiving into a national day of giving. People are encouraged to give to non-profit organizations, to volunteer their time and efforts or to do anything else that enriches their communities, and the movement looks for ways to make that sort of giving easier. Local for-profit companies are encouraged to find ways to get their employees involved and to fund volunteer efforts.
The idea started at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, which has been described as an anchor of the Jewish community. But it didn’t really ignite until the U.N. Foundation became a partner.
Dec. 3 will mark only the second Giving Tuesday ever, but its backers hope it results in much more than the $10 million that were donated last year. That’s how much the software company Blackbaud estimates was given, according to the TimesReporter.com.
But of course it is difficult to calculate the giving because not all of it was in the form of cash, nor did it all necessarily involve giving to organized charities and non-profits.
And besides, if people become too caught up in calculating the exact total of the amount given, they will begin to miss the point in ways similar to how Christmas giving has become a competition, of sorts. Americans are good at calculating and competing. Giving Tuesday should be all about giving, even in ways nobody may ever see.
The Giving Tuesday movement has created some interesting initiatives. One is the concept of taking an “unselfie.” This is a play of the popular “selfie,” in which a person uses a cellphone to take a picture of him or herself. An “unselfie” is a cellphone photo of someone doing an unselfish act, which then is posted on the Internet.
Another is the “family dinner project,” in which families are encouraged to discuss gratitude and giving during a meal. That way, children will learn about the importance of charity, and the movement will be passed to a new generation.
If the movement continues to gain momentum, its organizers hope it becomes a global initiative. That would take stress off governments, who often look for ways to fund social programs that are poor substitutes for the kind of giving that involves neighbors helping each other out of a sense of kindness and duty.
It also will help to alleviate the growing ironies of the season. This year, some major retailers have announced they will begin Christmas sales on Thanksgiving Day itself. Christmas gift-giving, meant to honor the gift of the Savior to the world, has been swallowed up by shopping frenzies and official fretting over whether retailers will earn enough money to signal a strong economy.
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Too often, news stories on Thanksgiving weekend are dominated by trampling hordes at one or another retailers, or by fights over limited supplies of some item.
The vice president of the U.N. Foundation, Aaron Sherinian, told TimesReporter.com, “There’s a day for giving thanks, a day for getting deals, and a day for shopping online. There’s really no day to give back.”
Of course, Thanksgiving and Christmas themselves traditionally were such days. Giving Tuesday can help to restore that balance.