There is nothing like having tax season fast upon us to shine a white-hot light on our often-contradictory thoughts on sharing what is ours in the support of others. While the silent phlebotomy of a payroll deduction and a check cut to the IRS may get you to the same spot financially, the psychological impact is quite different. Write those three letters on the "Pay To" line and one's thoughts can start to race to bloated bureaucracies, or anger over fraud, corruption and concerns for overall public sector competency.
While taxes are the most obvious and ubiquitous form of involuntary social support that most of us willingly engage in, I am struck by how much the way we talk about our voluntary community activity and philanthropy often sounds like it was pulled from the taxman's glossary of terms. If we are not "giving something back," we are "paying it forward." Of course, our tax code has thrown true philanthropy and self-interest into a shotgun marriage of necessity. Our better angels and our inner accountants can both point to good work they have done.
Well, I have some good news for you. If you have ever served as a mentor, worked for free on a house or garden that was not your own, or taken an active role in a community endeavor that is a complete departure from your normal life you'll know what I am talking about. It doesn't feel like you have given away anything.
Every year a group of 300 adults and teenagers from my town get together and bus down to Mexico to build homes for families who lack safe shelter. The conditions the families live in are heart-rending. When we tell our students that just by putting a lock on family's front door means that the kids can then safely go to school, they don't forget that. When our students bond with the young children on a jobsite, any foreign-ness to this soil melts away, and a home away from home takes its place.
I am convinced that this is the best thing our town does, all together as a true community. The best news: this bandwagon has room, so put down the checkbook and pick up a hammer.