Bah, Humbug: the Power of Giving

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. ~Winston Churchill

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round…as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem … to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. ~Fred, Scrooge’s Nephew, A Christmas Carol

Over the weekend, our family watched A Muppet Christmas Carol.

A timeless classic. (A Christmas Carol – not the muppets, although they are classics in their own right.)

And, as I was watching, it occurred to me that – even with all the media and social focus on negative stories – people actually yearn to see Scrooge-type transformations.

We love seeing the power of giving.

We love seeing that humans are still capable, even today – an era that celebrates selfishness – of selflessness. Those stories give us hope.

You’ve seen viral “wallet-dropping” videos. A person panhandling on the street sees someone drop a wallet, returns it, and is rewarded with money – which they then use to buy socks, or shoes, or food.

Then they turn around and give those items, selflessly, to other people on the street.

Their acts of generosity are interrupted by someone asking the obvious: Why would you give that money away when you have so little, and you so obviously need it for yourself?

Because that’s what you do, is the answer. When you can, you give. And it makes you feel better.

Regardless of how staged (they are), or how inappropriately the subjects are surveilled (they are), the videos go around and around the world. Humanity isn’t all bad, go the comments. Maybe there’s hope for us all.

As Tiny Tim may say, God bless us, every one.

In this all-too-broken world, those stories float above the morass that is our newsfeed as examples of what people can, and should, be.

Just as with the Dickens classic, these stories teach us a few things… including the brokenness of a world where camera crews follow a good Samaritan to see if they spend their reward on the “right” or “wrong” thing.

But these stories also teach us the power of our own reaction to generosity. We’re inspired. We’re made, at least temporarily, more … hopeful.

And so are our fellow humans, who share the stories, forward the articles, and click the links.

I’ve not seen research on how those “feel good” stories impact our brains, but I suspect it’s similar to the research that shows even just intending to do something generous makes you feel happy. In one study, researchers gave people money – with half of the recipients committing to spend it on themselves, and the other half on someone else.

After their money had been spent, the researchers surveyed them.

The group that had to spend the money on someone else was uniformly happier.

Just as interestingly, MRIs conducted while the study participants planned their gift-giving (how much they would give and to whom) showed strong interaction between two parts of the brain. The part that processes generosity … and the brain’s “happiness center.”

In other words, just deciding to be generous and imagining being generous made them … happier.

That study isn’t an outlier, either. Studies of people with high blood pressure showed that spending money on others lowered blood pressure as well as medicine or exercise.

Other researchers have found that people who are generous tend to live longer and have better health. (Turns out Jacob Marley was on to something!)

Being selfless is selfish, in a way.

There’s power in helping others. By helping others feel comfort – even if you’re uncomfortable – you’re in control.

There’s joy in helping others, and hope in reading stories of transformation and generosity (even if fictional).

So, on Saturday as I was watching A Muppet Christmas Carol, I was reminded.

Sometimes the best gift we can give ourselves … is helping someone else.

I think Dickens would agree.

And on that point… Let’s get to work.


Actions for the Week of November 30, 2022

All Hands on Deck for Warnock!

The need is obvious – we cannot have a Senator Walker. It gives me shivers just thinking about it. So, if you’ve not written postcards, canvassed, text banked or phone banked, now is the time to do so!

Activate America has phone bank shifts all week long. Sign up here.

Fair Fight has phone bank shifts here: https://www.mobilize.us/mobilize/event/543401/

DNC has phone bank shifts here: https://www.mobilize.us/mobilize/event/543693/

Georgia Working Families Party has text banks: https://www.mobilize.us/mobilize/event/540617/

Supermajority has a text bank: https://www.mobilize.us/mobilize/event/544462/

Attend World AIDS Day Action (D.C. and virtual)

From Long Covid Justice: Join a virtual and on-site action outside the White House in Washington, D.C., on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2022, to demand President Biden and the U.S. Congress take urgent action to confront our global nightmare. 

We are in the crosshairs of colliding global and domestic pandemics: HIV, Long COVID and ME/CFS, COVID-19, Ebola, cholera, monkeypox, TB, and more.

Pandemics are chronic, and the consequences are myriad. We continue to face the loss of loved ones worldwide, with high ongoing death rates. The massive and mounting challenges of over 100 million of us, newly or more severely disabled and chronically ill from Long COVID, are being ignored, and many of us now face even higher risk of severe or fatal COVID-19 reinfection. 

Our current catastrophe was preventable. But it won’t be prevented from happening again unless the U.S. pandemic response changes. 

Join us on World AIDS Day to demand President Biden and Congress: 

  • Commit $100 million to fund the South African mRNA hub: break the stranglehold of pharma greed that perpetuates vaccine, testing and treatment apartheid 
  • Announce the creation of a Domestic and Global Response Plan for Long COVID and Associated Diseases with the funding, policies, programs research, and accountability to directly impacted, independent communities required for impact  
  • Reverse the deadly harms of ten years of flat funding of the U.S.-bilateral global AIDS response, and address the disproportionate risk of people with HIV to surging pandemics, from monkeypox to Long COVID and more, with robust funding increases for FY23 and FY24
  • Renew the COVID Public Health Emergency in the U.S. beyond January 2023–which has expanded much-needed healthcare coverage and access to free tests and vaccines. Lifting the emergency declaration could cause up to 15 million people to lose Medicaid coverage during a surging pandemic.

Learn more and sign up to attend here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfWme5GvEeuva-Y-z6KoxXUqbNo5HD5wiAyI_c7x5KvjbNjFw/viewform

Call your Members of Congress and tell them to support this COVID-19 emergency funding request.

Hat tip to Matthew Cortland, https://www.patreon.com/posts/congress-covid-74956102, who provided this excellent action. He says:

Here’s a thing you can do to help end this pandemic hellscape. As an advocacy professional –– one who is chronically ill, disabled, and immunocompromised and who very, very much wants this pandemic to end –– please believe me when I tell you that however good it may feel to drag your representatives on social media? It does not matter in the same way a constituent phone call matters.

Shalanda D. Young, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote to Speaker Pelosi on November 15th, asking for Congress to provide emergency supplemental funding to respond to COVID-19:

…we are requesting funding to help prepare for a possible winter surge, smooth the path to commercialization for vaccines and therapeutics, accelerate research and treatment for long COVID, and develop next-generation vaccines and treatments.  Because our safety depends on getting the virus under control everywhere, we are also requesting funding to combat the virus globally by supporting vaccine uptake and expanding access to treatments and testing.  Failure to provide more funding would lead to needless infections and deaths across the Nation and around the world.

Director Young is the top budget official in the Biden Administration. Money for next-generation vaccines will help end this pandemic hellscape.

1. Look up the phone numbers for your elected officials (two Senators and one Representative) using the Find your Representatives tool from Common Cause.

2. Call all three of them and tell them to support emergency COVID-19 response funding. Here’s a sample script you can use:

My name is [your name]. I’m a constituent calling from [your zip code].

I’m calling to ask [elected’s name] to fully support President Biden’s request for emergency funding to prepare for a winter surge of COVID-19. We need [elected’s name] to use the December Omnibus bill to invest in our communities by providing free access to tests, vaccines, and treatments; by approving funds for researching long COVID and developing next-generation vaccines to truly put this pandemic nightmare behind us.

We must also ensure that the vaccine is available globally. After all, it is a global pandemic, and viruses don’t care about borders. Again, as a constituent, I’m asking [elected] to fight for this funding.


3. Don’t want to speak to a human? If you call outside of working hours, you may have the option of leaving a voicemail (if the office’s voicemail box isn’t full).

4. Feel really strongly that we shouldn’t leave chronically ill, disabled, and immunocompromised Americans behind? Really want this pandemic hellscape to end? Call your electeds twice a week. This Congress will end by the first week of January – that’s how long we have to make this happen.

5. Tell your networks (friends, family, social, etc) to call their representatives – the more of us who do this, the better the odds we get this vital funding.

Join Long COVID Justice and Tell Congress to Fund Pandemic Plans

In keeping with Matthew Cortland’s action above, you can join Long COVID Justice and Sign On to the Open Letter advocating for funding for pandemic plans.

WHEW! GO TEAM!

P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every email! We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

Have a thought? A small deed to suggest? Share it here!

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