A Nation of Givers Overlooked in a Season of Consumption

Last Sunday morning, around 8:00am, I found myself in a grocery store near my home. It’s actually a pretty peaceful time to be in a grocery store. I was about twenty feet into the store when I saw a clerk removing the last remnants of Halloween candy from the shelves. He was replacing them with snowflake-trimmed cookie tins and monster-sized holiday assorted chocolate samplers. And, so it had begun.

I couldn’t help but wonder, “when did we start glossing over Thanksgiving?” Maybe we do, maybe we don’t. But, it got me thinking about the messages we see, the perceptions we have, and actions we take as Americans as it relates to consuming and giving.

It’s widely held that Americans are voracious consumers — all too eager to spend and consume goods perhaps beyond our means. Yet, as overlooked as Thanksgiving is becoming as the holiday sandwiched between October and December, we still are a nation of givers — regularly giving away 2% of GDP (north of $300 billion) annually. Along with Myanmar, America is ranked number one in giving and stands alone across the giving dimensions of time, money, and helping a stranger. Even with that, it seems America is still often largely portrayed as consumer vs. giver of anything, including thanks.

As someone who wrestles with perceptions, realities, and how things are portrayed on a daily basis, I find things like Giving Tuesday (December 1 this year) now in its fourth year to be vital. It’s vital not only for the direct good that’s done, but it’s also a beacon of goodwill and philanthropy in America. And I’m encouraged to see creative extensions of Giving Tuesday like the storytelling competition backed by the Gates Foundation. In it, the Foundation is offering $5,000 micro-grants to further advance nonprofits that have benefitted by a remarkable act of generosity. The act of generosity is to be recounted on Facebook in an essay by those that provided it to the nonprofit and then the stories will be voted on by page visitors.

It’s efforts and actions like those that occur on Giving Tuesday, and everyday across the country, that are true catalysts of change in people’s lives. Perhaps finding ways to draw the focus to the giving that we do today would help encourage even more giving tomorrow. And at the same time, it might also swing the balance of perception so as not to forget how America can still be a nation for others first.

Sign up here to receive the intersection straight to your mailbox, every Friday morning.