Morality doesn’t have a calendar

I hate going to the grocery store during the holiday season, and not just because so many people there are trying to hoard the eggnog that is rightfully mine. The little tingle of the donation bell outside the door reminds me that there are people who can’t afford eggnog, or actual necessities for that matter.

This guilt trip I experience is not unique to me. Rather, it has been designed to affect people across the country. It’s called, “The Season of Giving.”

I have no problem with generosity or charity. In fact, those are two of my favorite things about people. In all our capacity for depravity, we also have the capacity to be definitively good to each other through generous acts.

I do have a problem with people who think of need as a season-specific concept. During the holidays, we are more prone to notice need because we spend so much time dreaming of excess, but need is there all year long.

I believe that generosity should work on that schedule, too. And I’m not the only one. Paul Zak explains in his TED Talk that we all possess something called, “the moral molecule,” namely oxytocin.

Oxytocin is a hormone found solely in mammals and through years of study, Zak has been able to design experiments to prove causation between oxytocin and generosity. The thing is, generosity and oxytocin are cyclical. They feed off each other, as they reinforce trust and empathy between others and ourselves.

Generosity does not mean that we give 90 percent of our income and become needy ourselves, but instead as Peter Singer explains, “(Donation Levels could) begin at 1 percent of income for 90 percent of American taxpayers, rising to 5 percent for those earning above $105,000 a year and gradually increasing until they peak at 33.3 percent for those earning more than $10 million a year. That would raise more than $500 billion a year — more than double a U.N. estimate of what it would take to cut world poverty in half.”

So as nice as it is to be able to provide for a family less fortunate than yourself during the Holiday season, don’t restrict yourself to one-sixth of the year. Start small, get the oxytocin cycle rolling and build a greater connection between yourself and the world.

After all, as Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran writes, “You give but little when you give of your possessions.  It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”

 

Reach the columnist at Alexandria.tippings@asu.edu or follow her at @Lexij41.

 

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