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Radical Love in Action
Radical Love in Action

DAY 17: Put Love into Practice

Doin' Good - A Labor of Love

Yesterday I hung out with the Youth Group at First Parish in Milton to talk about what it means to do good in the world. This great group of teens is raising money for an organization jn the Boston area called Bridge Over Troubled Waters, which provides life-changing services for homeless and at-risk youth, including queer youth. Their fundraiser is coming up next weekend, so they were preparing by looking at the complicated questions that come from wanting to donate to those in need.

 

We started by discussing how you decide to give money to people who ask on the street. Are there people who are more "deserving" than others? How would you know, just by looking at them? Is there such a thing as "more deserving" to begin with, since we believe everyone has inherent worth and dignity? Some of the teens shared about an eye-opening experience they had when they participated in a service program for youth that introduced them to people who were homeless in Boston. They learned about how some of the presenters had become homeless, often because of a major health problem or financial difficulty that bankrupted them, a far cry from the idea that only lazy or foolish people are homeless.

Beyond homelessness, we also talked about other ways that many of us are asked to donate, like the Susan G. Komen Foundation's work to end breast cancer. As we all noted, the Komen Foundation is everywhere, running races and promoting celebrity endorsements. They have single-handedly brought the color pink to the NFL. But even though they raise a lot of money, the Komen Foundation has been criticized for the low fraction of that income that actually gets donated to breast cancer research. People also wondered if the separately popular "Save the Ta-tas" bracelets, sold to raise money for breast cancer research, were really making light of a terrible disease that affects millions of Americans.  Does all of the marketing from groups like Komen make them big-picture, well-run organizations, or self-serving and exploitative ones?

In the end, it seems clear that it takes work to give away money, that doing good is hard. There are so many possible unintended consequences from any donation, and it can be so frustrating and disappointing to learn about how people or organizations fail to live up to our expectations. Being willing to think carefully about those expectations, and talk with other people about them, is critical in finding the right ways to live out our values in the world.

Thanks to the youth of First Parish in Milton for a great conversation! Practicing Radical Love is as simple as offering an act as kindness to a stranger, as complex as determining to whom we should offer our limit resources, and everything in between. Sound overwhelming? It's not! Visit the 30 Days of Love page for Monday, February 3 on Standing on the Side of Love for suggestions on how you can practice Radical Love.–Ed.

About the Author

  • Carey McDonald is the UUA's Executive Vice President. He's a lifelong UU who has worked in nonprofit, government, political and progressive organizations. He lives Medford, MA with his wife, Sarah and two sons, Julian and Hosea.

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