The Best of Andy Rooney

If you have your health, some happiness, a job, a place to live and some money in the bank, you don't need help. The chances are you ought to be helping someone who does need help. I have those things, but who do I help and how?

At least twice a week, I feel guilty as I drop some letter asking for a contribution into the little wicker wastebasket next to my chair. Do I not care about the blind? Don't I want to help wipe out cancer? Am I in favor of muscular dystrophy? What about the school and college I attended? Am I ungrateful to them because I don't always give them what they want?

There are so many people and organizations that need and deserve help that it's more than I can stand to think about sometimes. I'm eating too much and there are people starving. It would be better for all of us if I split what's on my plate with them, but how do I do that? It simply is not easy to be charitable.

One of the difficult things about charity is deciding whom to give to. You can't give to everyone who asks and sometimes those who don't ask need help worse than those who do. I don't give to the person with the dog on the sidewalk outside of Saks Fifth Avenue because I'm not sure what's wrong with him.

The United Way has been a partial answer to the problem of how to give. We'd like to do something in a more direct way for a person or for some specific organization. At this time, after tax season, I'm often embarrassed to see how little I've given compared to how much I have.

We all want to know for sure that any charitable contribution we make is not stolen or wasted and it's impossible not to look for some kind of appreciation from others who know you've given.

"Take heed," it says somewhere in the Bible, "that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them."

I'm always suspicious of people who drop some money in cup for a person begging on the street because I think they want others to notice what they've done. They may drop a quarter in the man's cup with a crowd of people watching but I wonder how much they give to a charity in private?

A lot of rich people make wills and keep everything they have for themselves until they die. This comes mostly from the fear of not ending up with enough, I suppose. I've always thought -- and I suppose everyone has thought this -- that if I ever became really rich, I'd give away everything except what I needed to live well on. Not being really rich, that's easy for me to think. And, of course, each of us gets to define what's really rich. If I had what I have 20 years ago, I'd have considered myself "really rich."

Very few of us "give 'til it hurts." We wait until we have enough so it doesn't hurt much, then we give. We find ways to let ourselves off. We say to ourselves that we're suspicious of how this charity spends its money, or we don't like the new policy of this school or that organization. It's easy to find some excuse not to give and, of course, it's necessary that we have excuses. It is true that we can't give to everyone.

Charity is never easy. So many of the people who need it don't seem to deserve it and that provides a wonderful excuse for all of us not to give much.

Andy Rooney is taking the day off. In his absence, we are reprinting a classic Rooney column originally published Jan. 25, 1983.

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