The Sweetness of Charity


Angelou, Maya




In this short essay from her book, Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, Maya Angelou explores the relationship between giver and receiver expounding upon the immense value of even the smallest gift. She writes that giving not only benefits the receiver but also "liberates the soul of the giver." Angelou wonders why some philanthropists fail to find this value and choose to believe instead that it is as debasing to give as to accept a gift. She diagnoses their problem as giving "out of duty rather than delight" and advocates instead free and heartfelt giving. Do you agree?

Full Text*

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The Civically Engaged Reader, eds. Davis & Lynn, (Great Books Foundation, 2006).




Connection and RelationshipGiving and ReceivingImpact and OutcomesKnowledge and UncertaintyMoney and WealthMotives and ValuesPoverty and NeedPower and Privilege

Big Questions

How do we know what a gift achieves?When I give, what do I expect in return? What do I receive?How do we know the impact of our actions?How do I know that I am making a difference? Is it possible to know?Is money a good gift?What is the appropriate response to privilege?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Do you agree with Angelou that the “giver is as enriched as is the recipient”? Why or why not?
  2. According to Angelou, what – and how much – should one give?
  3. Is there a difference between philanthropy and charity? Do we bring different expectations to these acts?
  4. Why do you think the philanthropists in Angelou's story felt self-conscious?
  5. Why does it matter whether we feel “estranged from the objects of [our] generosity”?
  6. Should giving always feel like a “delight”?
  7. How should we “change the way we think of charity”?
  8. Where do you see yourself in this text?
  9. Do you ever feel ashamed about your giving? Why or why not?
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