The Art of Giving Virtuously


As a soldier friend of mine often likes to repeat post-port, you get to really know a person when they are faced by death. However, as those who have joined the near-death club with two fingers rather than a pistol to draw upon can testify, the crucial moment soon passes and drawing conclusions as to the survivor’s character is an intolerable task, such are the parameters within which fate operates. Perhaps the friend should add the word repeatedly to the end of his claim. Indeed, I must advise him to do so the next time he drains my drinks cabinet.

Since most of us face death only a few times in our lives before we accede to it, I’d say you really get to know a person in life by how they give a gift (and by how they receive one).

I recall a friend from Santa Cruz de Tenerife who seemed as sunny as her archipelago. As her face lit up, so did the faces of those who met her in the street, on the beach and at parties. All talked highly of this attractive woman, who was forever giving gifts. One day, over our usual Cortados leche leche in a café off Plaza de la Candelaria, I was tired and hungover – feeling a tad mean. And I asked my sunny friend whether she was selfishly deriving pleasure from giving all these gifts, or was her act of giving a selfless one?

She seemed flummoxed and taken aback. She had no ready answer. Her sunny face disappeared – fortunately just temporarily – and the canary’s wings seemed clipped. Immediately I felt guilty and ordered new coffees from the waiter – this time with a splash of 43.

A few weeks later I chatted with my Canarian friend at a party. She told me I was right. That sometimes it took an outsider to point out that there was more to one’s behaviour, even when one thought one was doing good. She mentioned that at times, as she had lost a close family member in the past and was still grieving deep inside, she became depressed and that her sunny disposition was little more than an act.

I was, fortunately, decent enough back then in my early twenties to apologise to her and told her not to change her ways. That, I was sure, her giving was selfless and virtuous and that she should not change in any way at all because of what some cold Brit once said with a sore head the morning after too many tequilas. Indeed, if the world was full of people like her we would not need to have a word for heaven.

It is the key test of a person’s character, I am sure, as to how they give. Those who give callously because they have to – or, worse, to show off to others that they can, or because they know they will profit from the gift – are without question inferior characters. But they are all superior to those who demand gifts by compulsion – like some kind of low-school mafia – by using Government as a jemmy with which to prize wealth relentlessly from those who have earned it. For those people are lowlifes – mere thieves.

If everyone were motivated primarily by virtuous desire to provide society with what it needed, then we could at the end of each tax year decide to simply donate a great chunk of our earnings to what society needed. What is stopping us? Why have a revenue system at all? Everyone knows that we need the Government to spend public money. So why not simply donate this money out of virtue?

The likes of wealthy capitalist Warren Buffett – those who voluntarily give away their fortunes – are far more virtuous than those rich socialists like J. K. Rowling who could bring about their alleged goals for society quite easily simply by retaining whatever proportion of their wealth they needed and giving the rest away to the Government. Far more virtuous than the crapitalists too who Getty-style hoard and stifle their own oxygen supply under the mountain of gold they amass.

So, why doesn’t everyone on the Left simply give all they have to the poor? Think of the example that it would set. All capitalists would seem such awful people in comparison. It would be just like the unilateral nuclear disarmament of which those Greenham Common idealists used to sing. Soon everyone else would surely follow suit?

Reality bites. Life is a trade-off, as former Marxist Sowell so intelligently points out.

The Left always, eventually, recognises that human nature is capitalist and for this reason always wishes to achieve its socialist goals by means of compulsion. Socialist governments wherever they have arisen have always given – when they have been able to give – to their own and never to those from whom they have stolen. Think of the Chavez supporters with their arepas and beer, or the Castro family’s Punto Cero. What they have received they have spent – as so many who are not used to wealth spend – or amassed for themselves and their stooges.

The most virtuous givers are capitalist. Explain that to a virtuous Corbynista when they next rant on about income inequality and the need for expropriation and socialism.

Selfless? Virtuous? Piffle.