Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Just what does it mean to "give back"?

Saw another one of those commercials that get so annoying this time of year about how good it feels to "give back." The term is incoherent. If those who have had some success were to "give back" to those responsible in some measure for their success, they would be giving back to parents, decent teachers, customers, fans, mentors, good bosses, etc. But that is of course not what is meant. They're talking about giving to help those less fortunate or talented. Giving to people in need is commendable, and we always do some of it, but it isn't "giving back" but simply giving, unless you treat the entire community/nation/world as responsible for you having something above and beyond bare necessities to use to help others. But while it might make sense, to urge, as has been done, black pro athletes to "give back" to the communities they grew up in, even that seldom really makes sense. Few successful athletes have been nurtured by entire communities; indeed, many achieved success by being careful not to be shaped by their communities. It might be commendable for them to give to help disadvantaged kids in those communities, but this is still hardly ever really giving back.

Can we retire this tired term?

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