The first 5 months of 2020 have been distressing. An understatement, I am aware.
Just as the world was beginning to understand how to “re-open” safely from the COVID-19 virus and its vicious health and financial calamities, we were faced over the last week with an even tougher test – one squarely confronting the perceptions we hold of our own humanity.
We all have seen the video of George Floyd, a police officer’s knee on his neck for almost 9 minutes, pleading for his life. We have watched the protests following his death – some peaceful, some not, but all gut-wrenching – expand from Minneapolis, MN, to other U.S. cities, to cities around the globe.
As both the natural pandemic and our humanly constructed disease of racism combine to wallop us, we are staggered by a burst of negative emotions – feelings of unease, disconnection, anxiousness, fear, anger, and intense sadness, just to accent a few. Yes, we feel what we are experiencing and witnessing. But we struggle mightily to find the right words, the confidence, or maybe even the energy, to discuss with others why it all matters and how we can respond to help heal and rebuild a more civil and economically-viable society.
It is in this moment of reticence that I want to encourage each of you who labor in the vineyard of generosity. While you are rightly and specifically focused on gathering the charitable resources needed to help fulfill your institution’s mission, your work also represents a singular but important thread in the vast quilt of what American ethicist Jean Bethke Elshtain called the “sturdy but resilient institutions of democratic civil society.”
Your work has never been simply to invite donors to support just your mission. Your work has always been far more important and broad-reaching than that. As part of the great voluntary sector, you have the awe-inspiring responsibility to promote and facilitate generosity, self-sacrifice, compassion, and mutual assistance for all of society. By inviting people to give, you are helping strengthen the moral and humane habits which ultimately serve as the antidote for our most vexing problems. Both those we make for ourselves and those mother-earth springs on us.
So, today – especially today – go invite someone to give generously. Invite someone to serve as a volunteer. Invite someone to become more involved in a cause bigger than them and their family.
Your efforts will not only help your institution serve more and better, they also will move us all just a bit closer to fulfilling the highest of humanity’s virtues.