Helping Hands

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There are a lot of ways that a person can give back to their community. They can simply write a cheque to a credible volunteer agency or charity. They can volunteer to sit on a board or provide direct service to people through a food bank, for example. They can organize their neighbours around a cause – such as improving or preserving a local park. They can run for town council or other elected office.

Unfortunately, most people don’t do any of those things (for the record, I’ve done all of them). There are a lot of reasons people don’t become active in helping their communities and a lot of those reasons are good. Some people have to work two jobs just to keep their family housed and fed. Though I do know a number of people who still find a few hours to volunteer at their kid’s school or local clubhouse despite the demands of work.

There are also those with several young children who may feel drained of energy at the end of a long day. Still, I often find that these parents are often eager to help out as crossing guards or supervising the school playground. Some of them do what on surface seems self-interested and set up baby-sitting clubs to share the load and free up a few nights a month – but often the help they give exceeds that they get and in the meantime an entire community is freed up to do other things – some of which are to volunteer to help others.

There are those who argue – I run a business and create jobs. That’s my contribution to society. I’d buy that, perhaps, if such people didn’t seem so focused on accumulating wealth for themselves with never a thought to whether their employees or their families were actually getting by. Greed by its nature is always about the self and never about others.

But some of these business leaders see their success as arising from the success of their community. Even Henry Ford, hardly what one might call a paragon of liberal thinking, understood he had to price his cars so his own workers could afford to buy them. And in later years, after he had made his fortune, he set up major charitable foundations to help his community and his country in ways that transcended the merely commercial. The current efforts of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to initiate a new wave of philanthropy should be lauded even by the most anti-capitalist activist.

What doesn’t help communities is to use your power, money and influence to simply get your own way. That isn’t volunteering; that’s commandeering. Fortunately in Canada, the richest few and their corporations don’t have the legal ability to try to buy elections and to transform communities by using the power of government to express their will. They are forced to effect change by other means – by setting up charities or supporting causes and influencing people more indirectly. They are not anymore saintly but, unlike in the USA, they have less freedom to be devils.

And that’s ten minutes.

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