Giving itself is a gift

More lovely words from Rebecca Solnit’s meditations on disaster and disaster-response. Also be sure to read the excerpt I posted last week.

Altruism and charity are distinct if not in the acts themselves at least in the surrounding atmosphere: altruism reaches across with a sense of solidarity and empathy; charity hands down from above. The latter always runs the risk of belittling, patronizing, or otherwise diminishing its recipients in underscoring the difference between those who have and those who need. It takes away a sense of self while giving material aid. Giving and receiving can have strange reciprocities. … Giving itself is a gift, and there can be a deep mutuality between giver and recipient in the horizontality of altruism rather than the verticality of charity. More complex exchanges take place in the arts: is it the writer or singer who is giving the work, or the reader or listener who brings the gift of attention, or are they knit together in a mutuality whose give-and-take is complicated? Seen in a larger context, continual exchanges knit together a society, form the conversation of which it is made.

Originally published at

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