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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Sunday, January 22, 2006
    I'm pleased for the goat, but where's my present?
    I wish that the Year Of Living Generously site had an open to all participants front page blog with comments facility because if it did it could give this worthy project so much more of a buzz. And if it did then today I would be posting this - some typically stimulating sideways thinking from Alain de Botton in The Observer:

    "It has become fashionable these days for people to show up on birthdays and declare that rather than buying you a keyring from Orla Kiely or a jumper from Margaret Howell, your friend has been generous enough to sponsor a goat in Mali, a well in Thailand or five trees on the edge of the Kalahari. The idea is that the donor will have offered both herself and her recipient a satisfaction infinitely greater than any material object: that of knowing that money has been spent on a deserving cause.

    However, I'm afraid this won't do, and the next time someone offers me evidence of the sponsorship of a goat, I will plainly declare: 'I'm pleased for you and obviously for the goat, but where is my present? It's my birthday!'

    The trend towards goat-giving seems to pervert the virtues of both gifts and charitable donations. True charity should involve making a sacrifice oneself, on one's own behalf (and, ideally, not in public), rather than forcing someone else to go without a present.

    Furthermore, a real gift is something that should focus on the welfare of the recipient rather than on that of a third party, however much more deserving the latter might be (the only exception to this thesis is if someone deliberately asks for charity to be given in lieu of a gift).

    The goat-giving method strong-arms one into thinking that there is no choice: either a person gets one of those delectable V-neck jumpers from Margaret Howell or a village has no clean water. But the choice is almost never so stark. We should give amply to charity, but stop using evidence of high-minded donations as a reason not to turn up with a present."