Contributed by Dr. Al Cohen, Chair of the Capital Region ESD 113 Board of Directors at the July 14, 2021 board meeting.
My opening remarks today reflect on the value of giving that has been identified by our ESD Leadership Team as the focus for the month of August.
In 1831, French civil servant Alexis de Tocqueville traveled to America to study the American Penal System. In reality, this trip had more to do with his ambition to enter politics. The outcome of the trip was a document titled Democracy in America. In this document, he wrote—in referring to America—that “no country in the history of the world has so creatively and effectively combined philanthropy and government service.” Tocqueville continued, “This is uniquely American and profoundly important … in America, government sees philanthropy as a partner.” Clearly, government does support a variety of human service programs and research studies. Oftentimes, that partnership is unfortunately seen solely as an income tax deduction. It is clear that Tocqueville foresaw the importance of charitable organization in providing for the common welfare of people, as well as governmental support. He emphasized personal sacrifice for the common good and those that gave received as much or more than those that received.
Some may view financial charitable giving as the only form of giving. This is understandable, because Americans have been generously giving to an estimated 850,000 not-for-profit associations that have worthy causes such as the American Red Cross, United Way, the American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society. But Americans have also been generous in the giving of their time, energy, care, and concern for others. This has often been overlooked but is of great support to those in need. We see hands-on voluntary efforts by many service clubs including Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions, as well as by other groups such as Habitat for Humanity. Faith groups are another major believer in helping and serving those in need. These groups may use different terminology, but, all the same, giving is at the forefront.
A few examples from different faiths illustrate both financial giving and giving of ones time and energy:
- Buddhism uses the terms Dāna and Sweat Dāna, which refer to sharing and selfless giving.
- Christianity practices generosity in the terms tithe or tithing, in which one-tenth of one’s income goes to helping others in need.
- The third pillar of Islam is Zakat, which has eight categories of giving.
- In Judaism, the concept of philanthropy comes from the concept of Tzedakah and is seen as a form of social justice.
So, let me recognize our Leadership Team in their acknowledgment of the value and importance of giving. They are in the company of Alexis de Tocqueville and most—if not all—Americans, service clubs, and faiths. The value of giving is built into the fabric of America’s institutions and in the American people.