Another Argument for Being Charitable

Another Argument for Being Charitable

July 31st, 2013
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Another Argument for Being Charitable[1]

If you live with another person, or group of people, it is extremely likely that at one time or another, the division of household work will be a source of tension. This often explodes when someone who feels that they are being put-upon, exploited, or free-riden upon broaches their frustrations in a very accusatory manner. Surprisingly, they will usually find the supposed miscreant perfectly stunned and convinced of their own virtue; in fact, they will often be suffering from the opposite impression: namely that *they* are carrying a greater share of the collective burden. The ensuing disputations are seldom productive, and often costly in their emotional and time toll upon all parties. There are also those who never enter into open argument, but carry, like a thousand burs, little resentments inside of them every day: that they do more housework, that other people are littering in their local park, that a co-worker is not putting in the hours that they are.

There is a simple yet powerful phenomenon of which you should be aware, which may allow you to escape this fate.

When you accomplish a piece of household work, you are painfully aware of it. When another member of your intimate community does the same, there is a significant chance that you will remain unaware of it– or even if you realize they have done it, you will experience that realization as a brief moment of gratitude, rather than as a 30-minute chore; in other words, it will weigh less with you than your own work does. This means that each person will by default place more weight on whatever work they accomplish and less on what the other person accomplishes, thus our perceptions of the balance of work will be each person feeling they have done a relatively greater percentage of the household work than they actually have!

The same holds true for *creating* household work. By definition when we leave a mess, or fail to clean something we tried cleaning, or leave food to go bad, there is a very high chance that we are unaware of it. That means, when another person comes through and cleans up after us, we are not even aware that we created that extra work for them, or that they did it for us. On the flip side, we will be acutely conscious of the work our living-mates have created for us. Just as explained above, this will skew the accuracy of our estimation of how much work we create for our living-mates compared to how much work they create for us.

Similar arguments can be made in other departments of our life: working on a collective project at work, or maintaining public spaces and resources. We will always over-estimate the size of our contributions compared to others’, while under-estimating the size of our impositions compared to others’.

So while justice is quite important, and it is legitimate to have expectations of others and to not want to spend our lives laboring on behalf of lazy layabouts, before starting into an emotionally-charged confrontation, make some mental adjustments in your head for the probable mis-estimations that have lead to your sense of outraged justice. Give the other members of your community some benefit of the doubt, that they have probably contributed more than you have noticed. And in return, hopefully, you can receive the same charity from them.

Another strategy you can employ is trying to become more mindful of what others do for you, and more aware of the ways you may actually be imposing on others. This is a much more difficult long-term project, which will necessarily still fall short of accuracy, but which offers various other positives: very genuine increased appreciation of others, the possibility of reducing some of your destructive behaviors (like driving a car!), and a clearer understanding of yourself and your community.

Before closing, I must point out that in current American society, with nuclear families the most common living unit, women do far more housework than men.[2] Thus women will also be more likely than men to complain about the lack of help they receive from their domestic partners. In many cases, these complaints are quite justified, and I want to be clear that this essay is not meant to be understood as an attempt to bolster male privilege by exhorting women to stop speaking up against it. That seems to me a very necessary thing. At the same time, I hope that applying charity to this dimension of our human relations may move us towards a more harmonious existence, while other steps move us towards a more just one.


  1. Charitable, in addition to the common meaning of “giving generously” also has the meaning of being generous in your estimation of someone else. []
  2. A further essay might be possible on the topic of “why?” but here I’ll just point out two reasons:
    1. It has only been 1-2 generations that women en masse have moved into the workplace, prior to which they were by default homemakers. Mothers pass these skills on to their daughters, while fathers do not pass them on to their sons, and it will take some time for this historical inheritance to dissolve.
    2. Men still earn significantly more than women for the same work, and have better job opportunities, therefore their job is often seen as more important, and the woman continues to pick up slack at home so the man can work more away from home. []

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 31st, 2013 at 10:45 am and is filed under Theory. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Another Argument for Being Charitable”

  1. Justin Says:

    Thank You for this! You outlined an overtly simple topic in such a way that the often overlooked logical solution can be discovered. Nice style; I am looking forward to reading more. Cheers!

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