Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Got a pickle? Give a pickle

From the 1-5-05 Chapel Hill Herald:

Would you like to have my pickle?
When I was a kid and enjoyed the rare experience of eating at the golden arches, I would enjoy my 17-cent fries and my 25-cent hamburger without assistance except for one thing. I didn’t like dill pickles as a kid and I would take them off my burger the minute I got it.
My mother, however, loves dill pickles, just as I do now. As a child of the depression, she would find it unthinkable to toss my pickles away (or ask for the burger without them) and so our ritual was born. Buy the burger, open the burger and give the pickles to Mom.
This dance continues today as my younger son dislikes dill pickles (for now) and so as he opens his Big Mac, the offer comes from the back seat, “Mom, do you want my pickles?” No calories in a dill pickle. I’ll take it.
It’s a silly thing and a small thing, but it reminds me of our contrary tendencies in being generous. Americans are a peculiar bunch. We can, overnight, give millions of dollars for Tsunami victims on the other side of the world and get up the next morning and fight over a parking space.
We’re competitive about everything. We pledge $35 million in disaster relief, get called stingy (along with other wealthy nations), then up it to $350 million. When someone does a study of the puny things in the U.S. budget that cost $350 million, that number will double.
I’ll see your compassion and raise it ten teardrops. If only it were a poker game. If only ten would be enough.
Growing up, we were all taught about sharing. It’s a good thing to do in general terms, like with a pickle or a blanket.
It’s a bad thing to do sometimes, like with the answers to your algebra quiz or when your computer contacts my computer and says “I love you and I want you to open this file.”
Of course, there’s always the classic example of selfish sharing – that’s right selfish – like when your co-worker arrives at the office with bleary eyes, sore throat and runny nose, sneezes on your desk, your phone and everything you touch, then announces that he just had to come in today because he had some report that just had to go out and he couldn’t ask you to do it for him.
Yeah, right. He couldn’t bear to use up any of his paid time off in order to spare you his cold, that’s all.
There’s also the family example (every family has one) of the emotional blackmailer. This is the person in your family who always seems to step forward to do something that appears helpful, then rubs your nose in it for at least a year, preferably five to ten.
Not that you didn’t say thank you. Not that you didn’t appreciate it, just that she hosted that party and did all the work while you had fun and now you owe her. Forget about ever doing anything that would be enough to repay the gesture. It isn’t possible.
It’s quite a pickle.
Over the holiday break, my son put in some hours sorting and counting mittens and socks and other things donated to Orange Congregations in Mission (OCIM). He did this to earn community service hours for his International Baccalaureate program at Cedar Ridge High School.
What a blessing this experience was for him (and for me). For three days after Christmas, he was wrapped up in something other that what was under the tree and how fast he could spend the cash his pickle-chomping grandmother gave him.
Some of the work is tedious and might not be anyone’s first choice to do for three days straight, but Rob was appreciative that he could pop in and get his hours to meet his requirement – that’s the self-interest part. The other part was that he got some real-world work experience, with supervision and expectations and getting the job done. That has value for him. He helped someone else – someone he’ll never meet, who will never be able to say thank you to him personally or directly.
And that is ultimately what generosity is – that act of giving when thanks are not expected and perhaps not even possible. That’s the best experience in charitable donation available.
When you give up a pickle you didn’t want anyway, it’s not really a generous thing, it’s more a matter of frugality. As a practice, however, it does get you thinking about whether or not someone else can use something you don’t need or want any longer.
So if you got a new sweater for Christmas and are ready to retire an old one, have an old coat you never wear or other household items that are working but not seeing any real use for you, give OCIM a call (at 732-6194) and find out if you can donate the items, which are usually tax deductible.
Give a neighbor a pickle. It’ll make you feel good.

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