Sunday, January 15, 2012

Readers share stories of sharing

A few weeks ago, I wrote about people who were trying to give back or show care for others. Whether it was paying off a stranger's layaway bill at a department store or donating through a micro-lending website to nascent entrepreneurs far afield, I noted how people found ways to give back even in small ways. And I asked readers to send me their own stories.

As soon as that column ran, those stories started arriving in my inbox.

A reader from California writes that in addition to her regular contributions to charitable organizations, she takes a small amount of money every month and spends it at a local store where she typically doesn't shop. She buys inexpensive items from these shops - a bookstore, a tea shop, a music store, an art gallery - to give as gifts or to contribute to charity. "I get to know the storekeepers and contribute to their livelihood," she writes. 

Fifteen years ago, a family in Ohio decided it was "silly" for the adults in the family to exchange gifts at Christmas any longer. So they pooled the "adult gift dollars" and each year take turns choosing a worthy recipient. Some years the money has gone to a charitable organization. Of late, it has occasionally gone to a neighbor family where a parent has lost a job. Some of the recipients have contributed to the family fund to be donated to someone else the following year.

Another group of 15 "average middle-class Midwestern empty-nesters" decided to pool their resources to provide clean sources of water to people in developing countries. To date, they have contributed more than $30,000. Three of the group plan to travel to Sierra Leone later this year for the dedication of the six wells they helped fund as part of their efforts.

A business owner in northern California contacted a local military coordinator to find out how to buy Christmas presents for the children of local active duty families with a parent deployed overseas. He received the wish lists of eight children from five families, all of which employees at his company filled.

Another man in the Midwest discovered (a micro-lending website I mentioned in the earlier column) just over three years ago. He started out with $300 seed money, doling it out in $25 increments over several months to various small business efforts. He fully expected that some of these loans would never be returned. "I haven't lost a single penny from any recipient defaulting," he writes. He reinvests the money as it gets repaid. He made his 74th loan last week.

Finally, a reader from California worries that such stories reflect a "tokenism." "To 'do the right thing' means caring for your neighbor and demonstrating basic respect without placing a priority on selfish hidden agendas," she writes. "When people do the right thing as part of their daily lives, then they have shown they care."

She's right. The majority of the readers who wrote me their stories asked to remain anonymous. Their giving appears to reflect ongoing and thoughtful efforts to give back or show care, regardless of the nature or size of their contributions. Their stories are strong reminders that there are many people who strive to do the right thing every day with no hidden agenda.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal
Responsibility in Today's Business
and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to

(c) 2012 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.

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