Disappearance of Charity

I like big words.  From reading my blog you’ll see that I have a very limited ability to use big words, but I like them.  I love it when someone throws in a Latin phrase like ad infinitum or in perpetuity.  But, I’m not exactly a word connoisseur.  I told a high school girlfriend that she couldn’t use big words if she couldn’t pronounce them.  She said I was the ANTI-thesis of something.  And she pronounced the anti- with a long i.  I told her she read too much.  [later in life I amended my original ruling to also include:  if you can’t spell it, don't say it either.]

One simple word that I like which seems to be disappearing is charity.  Why are we getting further and further from the word charity?   Why did non-profit become the mostly commonly used description?  Without profit?  And now the more popular term is NGO (non-governmental organization).  I hate that acronym.  (I rarely use the “h” word, but it fits.)

Charities across the globe are doing amazing work (warranting the tax-free status they get) and we can’t give them any better name than non-profit, NGO, or 501(c)3?  When I worked at eTapestry we partnered with Tom Suddes who is a former major gifts officer at Notre Dame.  He doesn’t like the word starting negative either and calls them “For Impact” organizations.  Now that’s more like it!

I knew charity is in the Bible and came from a Greek word for love.  I think due to its Christian and biblical origin is why people are now sadly distancing themselves from it.  The original definition for the word spelled c-h-a-r-i-t-y is, “Christian love”.  And it notes “frequent rendering in New Testament Greek”.  Here are a few of the other earliest definitions:

  • To treat with affectionate regard.”
  • “Man’s love for God and his neighbor.”
  • a bequest, foundation, institution etc. for the benefit of others,  esp. the poor or helpless”
  • In 1748, it was used as “first establishment of a public charity”

Oxford English Dictionary, Second Ed. (1989)

These are very good.  But, before you know, I think, the word charity will be on death’s door and you’ll only know it’s origin by looking it up in a really big book in the library.

Who can put charity back on the street and let people know the word is about compassion?  Let’s focus on the hearts.  Let’s focus on the charity.  Don’t tell me your tax status.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”        Abraham Lincoln

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