Karen Reichelt KAREN REICHELT

The gift of giving

COMMENT

A blood donation drive was recently held in Athens.

TAGS: Society, Diaspora

They laughingly call themselves the GODS (Greeks of Diaspora Society). They say it because it is true, but they also do it because it annoys the hell out of the locals.

This audacity affronts the stay-at-home Greeks as much as their behavior. They don’t mind getting down and dirty to help the environment and the community. They have hands-on experience with volunteer tree planting, highway rubbish patrols, coastal cleanup days and “meals on wheels” for the elderly to name a few altruistic activities. This is contrary to the local way of thinking – “We pay our taxes why should we bend down to pick up rubbish on the street?”

What a difference a decade or more in another country makes. The gray old doddering sods (GODS) can teach young people a thing or two about volunteering.

Helping others is at the core of civilization. But it is too easily forgotten these days.

There is a phrase used in affluent countries called “compassion fatigue” due to the constant requests for financial charity support. But on the ground the best support you can give costs nothing other than a few hours of your time.

In Athens and Greek provincial cities there are many charity organizations doing their best to support the community, but this has not generally filtered through the population.

Greeks are genetically generous. They would give you the shirt off their back if you admire it. You must be careful in your praise of their possessions because they will literally offer them to you on the spot.

But after years in crisis their generous nature has been drastically challenged. The old warning to “beware of Greeks bearing gifts” has more import now than in Trojan times. The crisis has made many people overly suspicious. But it isn’t all a conspiracy. Sometimes you can just get something for nothing. Sometimes there is no ulterior motive.

We should consider the benefits the volunteers get in return. The process of giving benefits everyone. The satisfaction of helping others is worth more than money. Unlike any drug it gives a high without any disastrous side effects.

Perhaps the most dangerous result of the crisis is that it has started to erode an essential element of our society.


Karen Reichelt is an Australian writer and author of “Extra Virgin.”

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