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Does Nice = Charitable?

In various discussions about faith and spirituality that I have had with friends and family, it seems to always come down to a question of being nice. ďAs long as you go through life being nice to others, isnít that all that matters?Ē I hear that one a lot, and Iím sure you do too.

While I agree that being nice is clearly a virtue and something that many of us still need to learn, I definitely do not think it is all that matters. And though Iíll have many who disagree with the following statement, I also do not believe that faith, whatever faith one follows, is all that matters either.

I believe that one has truly not grasped the meaning of life until they have made a difference in someone elseís. And making a difference, I have to say, is so much more than just being nice.

Donít get me wrong. Being nice is vital, especially in a world that can be so cruel. But being nice does not make one charitable. Being nice is giving someone a smile. Great, but unfortunately, smiles wonít help those who need a home, an education, a meal or a decent chance at a decent life. The only thing that is going to really help people in need is a helping hand or, in all honesty, a hand-out.

Usually, though, kindness and charity do indeed go hand in hand. It is rare to find a charitable person who is not also kind, right? Sure, there are situations where people who volunteer are only doing so because they have to and not because they truly want to. Like, for instance, when a criminal is being mandated by the court to conduct community service, or a teenager is required to volunteer to meet graduation requirements. Though these acts of may indeed help spur a sense of charity in the individual, being forced to be charitable is not my idea of being charitable.

And there are those who make financial donations only to get the tax write-off. It sure is nice of them to make the donation in the first place, and as far as I can tell, the people receiving the donations don't care why someone has helped them financially. But can you really say that those who give out of some direct financial benefit to themselves are indeed "charitable?"

So, how can nice people turn their penchant for kindness into acts of giving? Finding a way to be charitable is much like choosing a career path. All you need to do is follow your passion.

For instance, if you are a teacher (or a retired teacher, for that matter) then perhaps you can use your teaching skills to mentor at-risk children through an organization like Big Brothers, Big Sisters. If you are an animal lover, take that love for pets and turn it into a volunteering position at the S.P.C.A. If you once came from the depths of poverty and are now living a secure life, follow your footsteps back to a homeless shelter or a community agency, like Good Will, to help lift others out of poverty.

Are you a doctor? Why not join Doctors Without Borders, and make medical mission trips to provide healthcare to people dying in third world countries? Are you on summer break from college? Join Literacy Volunteers of America and help your local library with its summer reading program.

So letís be kind to our neighbors, indeed. But, letís do more than that. Be charitable, and just as we encourage others to be nice through our acts of kindness, perhaps we can encourage others to be charitable too.

Big Brothers Big Sisters
Good Will
Doctors Without Borders
Literacy Volunteers of America
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