Recently my Instagram feed has been filled with people doing challenges for charity. From the 2.6 challenge and people running marathons on their patios, to Captain Tom’s walk for the NHS, a spirit of generosity seems to accompany lockdown. It’s not just my Instagram, Revolut, the banking app, has reported that the average amount spent through Revolut’s Donations has grown by 59% since the beginning of March.
In a time of deep financial insecurity, this rise in giving seems surprising. Yet, Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women may have something to tell us about why this is. In the book the Little Women celebrate Christmas. Having already foregone their gifts, they are getting ready for a festive feast, until their Mother asks if they will donate it to a poor family living near them. The girls agree, and as they share their gift, the situation of the family is momentarily transformed by this act of generosity. Rather than focusing on the feast they are now missing; the book says that ‘there were not in all the city four merrier people than the hungry little girls who gave away their breakfasts.’
It is easy to dismiss this as the simplicity of a children’s tale. Yet something about our response to lockdown points to a deeper truth in the story. Like the Little Women we seem to be learning that there is much to be gained by giving. During isolation, giving offers us an opportunity to be connected. Whether it is a gift sent to a loved one, or a financial donation, giving connects people to the world around them. Equally, it offers us influence in this world. We may feel powerless in the face of this virus, but where we put our money, our time and our focus matters.
The Little Women were facing a moment of deep uncertainty, living through financial difficulty and a civil war. But in their gift, they - like us - benefitted from the knowledge that their choices could still make a difference. It may seem uncomfortable, even contradictory, but when we give, we also receive.