"Charity begins at Home"
There is an old folk saying that my grandmother used to say all the time that went something like, "charity begins at home." You would see the word "charity" engraved in the keystones of buildings belonging to municipal governments or civic organizations. The word would often be coupled with other words like truth, justice, hope, or faith. Charity was crucial in many a motto or coat of arms because the concept was viewed as a primary civic virtue.
We often think of charity now as an entity. Specifically, a charity is now only viewed as an organization devoted to meeting the social welfare needs of others to which people not in need give money to get a nice tax deduction. Sadly, the concept of charity as a civic virtue is largely being lost in modern American English and discourse, at least in its meaningful original form.
Charity largely evolves from the Latin word cāritās, which means brotherly affection or love. We generally do not think anymore in terms of an act of charity or a charitable organization stemming primarily from our brotherly concern or love for others less fortunate than ourselves. Those of previous generations like my grandmother bristled at the idea of having to accept charity from anyone because the concept was already beginning to be viewed as something negative; charity was something given out of pity and not out of brotherly love or concern. People seldom want pity because it offends their basic human dignity and self respect.
I lament the loss of charity as a civic virtue because its loss fuels the awful political rancor that has enveloped this country. Political acrimony is nothing new, of course. One has but to study the Presidential campaigns of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams or the public discourse leading up the War between the States to realize that this is, indeed, nothing new under the sun. Nevertheless, I generally try to avoid discussions of politics like the proverbial plague because very few people I know, regardless of party affiliation, can discuss political issues anymore in a rational manner, or even in a civil tone of voice. In a society that is fueled by emotive and not necessarily logical discourse, any disagreement is seen as a personal attack that must be responded to in kind and in force.
This political season is gearing up to be a particularly nasty one on a number of fronts. We saw it in the primaries and the nasty recall election in Wisconsin; we will see it kick into high gear for the Presidential election. But in all this, remember that charity should be the rule and guide of your political thought as well as your faith. We are all Americans, and we are all trying to vote and do what we think is best for the country. Just because someone does not agree with you on political issues does not make them stupid or beneath contempt. We owe everyone charity, most especially those with whom we disagree.