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Giving freely

| November 28, 2010 8:00 PM

"When the freedom they wished for most was the freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again." - Edith Hamilton

Part of the reason that I love living in North Idaho is because of the seasons. I love the beautiful summers, but I also love winter. Right now, as I write, snow is swirling in a terrible and beautiful storm outside my window. Yet, I know that with this season comes tremendous hardship for many. The bitter cold cuts to the bone of those who aren't adequately sheltered. The focus on gigantic feasts leaves an aching hunger in the stomach of those who don't have enough to eat. Pictures of families gathered in holiday bliss twists a jagged blade in the heart of those who have violence and fear at home rather than love. And for those who are alone, the short, dark and cold days make the loneliness more palpable than ever.

It is my fervent belief that the responsibility to care for those in my community in such situations falls squarely on my own shoulders. And I know I am not alone.

Americans gave $303.75 billion to charitable causes in 2009. Seventy-five percent of that is from individuals like you and me. That is the good news. The bad news is that is a 3.5 percent drop from 2008, due, in part, to a belief that the responsibility lies with the government.

I have often wondered how convenient it must be to believe, or feign to believe, that a man's duty to another can be satisfied by empowering the government. Social justice can be delegated, but it must be done so wisely. Paying taxes and voting for those who claim to care does not meet the threshold for wise delegation of social responsibility. Giving to nonprofits, however, does.

Government is slow, inefficient, politicized, reactionary rather than proactive and, above all, its power are derived from freedom we forfeit.

Nonprofits, on the other hand, are driven by passion, transparent, boast unparalleled results and can't afford bureaucracy. They spend more of your donated dollar on intended services than the government ever could with your tax dollar.

This contrast is driven home for me when I reminisce about my work at Dirne Community Health Center as I watch, and engage in, the health care debate. Addressing the health care crisis at a grassroots level, while not always perfect, is more efficient and effective than the alternative. Dirne provides services to all, charges based on what individuals could pay, and worries not about supporting a false economy of middle men. The government takeover further removes patients from services by metastasizing that false economy.

With nonprofits, your dollar matters, but so does your time. Should you choose to donate to St. Vincent de Paul, for example, you can go see your dollar put to work, and give a hand to those without a home.

Our failure to act on a personal level, and shift the burden of social justice to the government does infinitely more harm than good. My favorite movie quote is from "Spider-Man:" "with great power comes great responsibility." Our freedom in this nation is a great power, but as Joseph Sizoo once wrote: "Freedom is like a coin. It has privilege on one side, and responsibility on the other."

I encourage you this holiday season to pick any one of the many nonprofits in our area, and make a donation of your time, your money, or both. Simultaneously help your fellow man, and fight for your own freedom.

Luke Malek is a home-grown Kootenai County boy currently in a voluntary exile in pursuit of a law degree that he hopes will empower him to battle objectionable compliance with the status quo.

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