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Paul Catalanotto: The empty giving of the internet

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This stained glass window depicts St Ignatius in the cave at Manresa as he is guided by the Blessed Virgin. PHOTO: Lawrence OP/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If it is true that internet anonymity amounts to the hostility of “everyone else on the internet is wrong”, then the relative anonymity of various community online gifting groups can also amount to selfishness disguised as virtuous generosity.

Op shops and thrift stores sort through donations to ensure that only items displayed in the store are (hopefully) not junk, nor are these stores trying to pass rubbish off as something usable. Volunteers act as the gatekeepers of what items are considered worthy of a second chance. It’s undoubtedly a daunting task because, well, are those jeans supposed to have that many holes?

No volunteers sort through the never-ending river of items posted for gifting in online gifting communities. So, these online communities gift everything from matchbook collections to spare light bulbs, used candles, half-empty bottles of tomato sauce, used clothes (in every kind of condition), and even the occasional name-brand electronic. It’s the Wild West of giving.

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Saint Ignatius prayed in his prayer for generosity to “give and not to count the cost.”
However, Saint Ignatius could never have envisioned the swampy trenches of online giving where a decade-old pair of Very-Expensive-Brand leggings gets passive-aggressively fought over like two mums battling it out over the last Playstation console in the store so that their child’s Christmas won’t be ruined – if not the rest of their child’s life.

Of course, when the gracious recipient takes possession of their new-to-them Very-Expensive-Brand leggings, they find that their newly gifted booty should have been let out to pasture instead of passed on to another person.

It might have been more helpful if Saint Ignatius had included a “guide to giving” with his prayer for generosity. He might include the following if he had penned a guide to accompany his prayer.

First, if you aren’t sure whether or not an item should be gifted, ask a brutally honest friend. Note: your friend just might say, “you might as well be gifting a case of tetanus with a side of lockjaw by posting that rusted kitchen knife.”

Second, just because you’re willing to wear that item of clothing doesn’t mean anyone else wants to or should wear them. Nobody wants that pit-stained Metallica T-shirt from the concert your parents never let you go to 30 years ago. Just bin it. Third, don’t deceive anyone, so take a clear picture and accurately state the condition of the item you are gifting. No one wants to open a new-to-them storage box only to discover that the cat used it for a litter box last week.

Many of these individuals who gift do as Saint Ignatius recommends; they give and do not count the cost. However, they often fail to calculate what their gift costs others. When you give away rubbish, whether the recipient is rich or poor, you only steal time and resources from them because now someone else has to dispose of your junk. Don’t let your rubbish become another person’s burden, that is not generosity.

Related Article:

Paul Catalanotto: Our Marie Antoinette housing policy

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