Friday, September 26, 2014

Charity Begins At Home

Mike Maguire pointed me towards some of the things in this blog post. I promised I wouldn't write it until he'd done his own, but since he's now crossed to the for-profit dark we go...

As someone who fundraises for international humanitarian organisations, one of my least favourite phrases in the world is 'Charity begins at home'.

Whether or not it is explicitly racist, I hate the notion that there might be a mathematical relationship between how far away someone is standing from you and how much their life is worth. As someone put it to me: When a person says charity begins at home what they really mean is that it ends at home.

I especially hate it when Irish people say it, forgetting how recently it was that we depended on international aid and relied on other countries to welcome our emigrants (We still do).

The Sun in 1989

There are some truly beautiful stories of how people around the world step up to help the Irish - in particular during our most desperate time: the Great Famine.

There was the Choctaw tribe in Oklahoma who, despite having so little and suffering so much, donated $170 (worth tens of thousands today) to help the Irish. And the Islamic Ottoman Empire sent us a fortune.

And why are we so happy to ignore the fact that our economy is propped up by customers 'over there' and foreign visitors. It is sad to see some of the xenophobic comments that float around Irish news stories and charity social media posts, knowing that their authors may not even have existed if it weren't for the compassion and generosity of others.

I hope my country and my generation will be remembered as charitable.

And I hope we will see the phrase 'charity begins at home' disappear, or at least revert back to it's original meaning. You see, it doesn't mean help yourself (and people who look like you). Quite the opposite. Instead it means that by being charitable and kind to all, others will follow.

Lead by example. And dismissing the most vulnerable in our world flippantly with some meaningless catch phrase - well, that's not the example I want to set.


  1. "Charity begins at home" should not be dismissed in such derogatory terms as used here.
    Have known many overseas aid donors and also aid workers who are so out of touch and out of the world of local poverty that they fail to recognise or acknowledge it.
    The term "charity begins at home" should be used with the governments of poor countries and the rich within those countries to which we send aid.
    Truth is that to condemn the term "charity begins at home" is to deny the obligation that our first concern should be for those around us and nationally before we can go with credibility to help others.

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