Friday, November 11, 2011

House, M.D., and Generosity

A better title? . . . Crazy Generous or Just Crazy

You must think all I do is watch television!  Well, I admit to watching more than I should.  Laptops make it easy to work while enjoying a little mindless background entertainment.  (Could it be true that my daughter was right all those years ago when she told me that she could do homework while watching TV, listening to music or even talking on the phone?).

Once in a while, however, there is a show that actually makes you think. The writers might pull something from current news stories or they might just address an issue that's controversial in nature.  Apparently, not all television is bad. As a result, I recently had to put the laptop down and give my full attention to an episode of Hugh Laurie's HOUSE, MD called "Charity Case" (FOX TV) which viewed October 17, 2011. 

If you get a chance, you can watch the entire episode on the FOX website but it expires in about three weeks.  Loosely based on true events, characters address the issue of generosity - giving AND receiving.  Additionally, the show raises questions about a syndrome / condition referred to as "excessive altruism".  And then, the whole premise of the show is based on hard to diagnose medical conditions. 

The program forced me to consider questions about generosity which required further exploration.  I spent some time online in order to seek answers.  To start with, the storyline is based on the life of Zell Kravinski.  (See the Wikipedia article and one that explores the more controversial aspects of his philosophy on SimplySharing.)

The following are some of the thought-provoking quotes from Charity Case:

"A racing heart.  Medical condition.  A bleeding heart. Stupid condition." 

"Guy who gives everything away to strangers - sane.  Girl who doesn't want anything from strangers - crazy."

Regarding generosity: "Your parents didn't love you enough so you need to prove your superiority.  OR, they loved you too much so you need to prove your humility...or it's just guilt."

When asked "why do you want to donate your kidney", the patient answers, "The risk is 1 in 4,000 that I could die during surgery which means if I don't donate, then I'm valuing my life 4,000 times that of someone else."

Regarding the acceptance of gifts: "Either you're so insecure that you feel like you need to always have the upper hand OR you're so arrogant that the notion of favors is insulting to you . . . or it's your family. Some kind of immigrant pride."  She answers, "I just don't like it.  It makes me feel . . . icky."

We're entering the holiday season.  I'm already seeing the decorations and toy catalogues.  I'm already getting mail soliciting donations.  This is the time of year when people are most prone to give.  I guess the show and the questions derived from the show will haunt me for a while yet. 

I want to give.  But why?  What is a gift?  When is a gift NOT a gift?  What exactly IS the spirit of giving?  Is it biological?  Is it cultural? Is it spiritual?  Is it nurture - or nature?  Is it a good thing?  Or isn't it.  Is giving TOO much a bad thing?  Is NOT giving enough a bad thing?  How much self sacrifice is enough - and it's reverse, too much?  Is anonymous giving better? Can giving hurt rather than help?  What altruistic motivations are acceptable?  Which are not?  Why?  Is giving sometimes selfish?  When?

For now, I guess I'm just going to ponder.  Meanwhile, nothing changes.  Responsible Referrals was created to provide donations to nonprofits serving homeless kids.  It's getting cold outside.  No matter what answers come out of this, we are still donating 50% of our revenue to help.  When you're considering your gifts this year, perhaps you'll be willing to tell someone you know about us.  They will get a great real estate agent and the nonprofit of their choice will get a donation which will make a difference to someone.  They don't even have to worry about these difficult philosophical questions because it won't cost them anything.

All comments are welcome - here or on Facebook.

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More Information:
National Kidney Foundation
Blog Article:  Rickety Contrivances of Doing Good: Excessive Altruism
"What is Generosity" - University of Notre Dame

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