You hear the refrain all too often: “because we (you) have been so fortunate in life, we (you) are obligated to ‘give back.’” Well, it could be true that your earnings and success in life were purely by chance. That, for the most part, whatever wealth or success you have accumulated/achieved was not gained through trading mutually in beneficial exchanges, nor through incredible hardship, long hours, and really hard work; a lottery winner (or Stephen King) comes to mind. If such were the case, then you might feel compelled to simiply premise your actions upon a “give back” approach to those who were not so fortunate, and obviously did not earn it. What is heinous, and uncalled for, is an admonition from others (especially beneficiaries of the give back, social engineers, collectivist ideologues, and various and sundry promoters of the “give back” rant) that it is a moral imperative to “give back,” without judgment or any particular direction. That merely the idea and act of “giving back” is, in and of itself, a pinnacle of virtue – and in the process create out of whole cloth the obscene notion of unearned guilt.
After a lifetime’s worth of trading value for value, after giving your all, your best efforts, in the production of goods or services that others valued so highly that they were willing to trade with you that which they valued? Yet, you must now give more? After the years upon years of paying taxes, fees, subsidies that were promised to cure all the maladies of society, you are asked to forfeit the fruits of your labor? And how about the soldiers; we can argue about the ridiculous premises upon which they have placed themselves into harm’s way, but must they too “give back?” The list goes on and on. In all likelihood, you have already given to many individuals far more than you know; your honest efforts have enriched the lives of others in many ways. The reality is that you, as a successful human being, “owe” no one anything except your honest measure and judgment of them, and your commitment to respect their individual rights. You’ve done your part, you can walk proudly and fully enjoy the product of your efforts with zero guilt.
What you have earned is yours; others do not have a moral claim on your life, your life’s work, or the fruits thereof. If you decide for reasons wholly and rationally selfish that donating to a person, organization, or cause would make your own life better (all things considered), and above all enhance your own happiness, then by all means you should – but only if you have been able to adequately provide for yourself and those for whom you are directly responsible. True benevolence is a concept devoid of coercion, altruism, or (especially) sacrifice.
What is not needed in this world is a creed of self-sacrifice as suggested by those who advocate “giving back” carte blanche. An ethos that would mandate as a moral precept you give up what you value more for that which you implicitly value less (or for a non-value such as “society”), or somehow be duty bound to simply give. We live on the heels of, and indeed in many ways still in, an era in which the creed of self-sacrifice has been drum-beaten into us by mystics of both muscle and spirit; its effects are all around us. We see that “need knows no end,” and that dependency is institutionalized to the extent where generations are now dependent upon generations yet to be born, where money has to be “created” because earning it is too hard. That those born into this world are, in fact, indentured to some inane notion of “the greater good.” Such is a legacy and world-view that assumes the worst in man, celebrating his vices while demonizing his real virtues.
So, the next time you hear some public service message admonishing you to simply “give back,” take it with a grain of salt. Reflect on the wide ranging and meaningful contributions to your fellow man through the honest trades and service you have provided throughout your life. The role model you set as you merely went about your work, your sports, your relations with others. You will very likely find that over the course of your life you have indeed already given back – it was implicit in the trade.