News & Insight
18th December 2018
Being mean makes you miserable. Just look at Scrooge
It’s mid-December. We’re coming to the end of the calendar year of 2018, and many of us will soon be taking a few days off work to celebrate the Christmas holiday. It’s a time for gathering with friends and family, celebrating the things we’ve achieved over the past year, perhaps reflecting on what we could have done better, and planning to start 2019 with the highest of ambitions.
This holiday season is also known as a time for giving, and realising the joy we can find in seeing others made happy by what we have offered or done for them. But why should we only realise this at a particular time of year, and only among our family and friends? Why can we not give more often and more generously to experience that joy all year round?
The Charities Aid Foundation annual report on UK giving reflects that in general, the British are a generous people. More than 60% of the population donated money in 2017, with £10.3 billion given to charity. However, overall participation in charitable activity was down in 2017; while average amounts that individuals give have increased (from £18 a month to £20), fewer people are actually giving.
John Nickson is one of Philanthropy Company’s Special Advisors and he finds recent evidence that trends in charitable giving may be down very worrying. With over forty years’ experience of working with donors, trusts and charities, he has a great deal of wisdom to share about the giving experience.
“I’ve come to believe that giving in its widest sense,” he says, “is fundamental to any concept of what it is to be a human being. Being mean makes you miserable. Just take a look at Dickens’ character of Ebenezer Scrooge. If we all didn’t know this at some level, the story of his redemption found through generosity wouldn’t have survived over 150 years.”
John is also deeply concerned about growing inequality and the relatively low level of giving by the wealthy, in particular.
“Inequality not only hurts society it also hurts economic growth. That means it’s a problem for everyone,” John asserts. “And yet, the wealthiest 10 per cent of our population give a far smaller proportion of their income on average than the poorest 10 per cent.”
His 2013 book, “Giving is Good for You”, sought to establish the case for greater generosity, especially among the wealthy. Many of the philanthropists he had been working with over the years were also frustrated by the lack of engagement among their peers with charitable causes. The stories he shares in the book show how there is immense joy and profound fulfilment to be gained through the act of giving.
More recently, John has come to the realisation that the problem is not just one of the limited generosity of the wealthy but also one of every individual’s generosity of spirit and time, their under-fulfilled commitment to the “common good.” And so he wrote another book, entitled “Our Common Good,” in which he asks: If the state provides less, who will provide more?
In an “age of austerity,” the state has pulled back from many of its long-standing social and economic commitments to the poor and disenfranchised, and there’s increasing demand on the voluntary sector to help fill the gaps. Currently, the sector is not equipped to meet extra demand, and this requires a practical as well as a moral response from all of us.
“We need more people to be more generous,” John says. “Anyone can be philanthropic.” He references the recently published Civil Society Futures, a report on the two-year independent inquiry into the future of civil society in England.
“The report is a terrific endorsement of the power of civil society,” says John. “It highlights how civil society has been a force of positive change throughout history, and emphasises the role that all of us have to play in meeting the tremendous challenges facing the country, and indeed all liberal democracies, in the face of globalisation, austerity, recession, and so on.”
And so, to return to the start of our blog, when we reflected on the time of year as a prompt to think about what we’ve achieved over the past 12 months and how we can make 2019 even better, let’s work on extending the “season of giving” to something we do all year round. As John explains through his two recent books, not only is there profound personal fulfilment to be discovered, but the future of our society may depend on it.
Find John’s books online:
Our Common Good https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/184954803X
Giving is Good for You https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00CNVQUOO/