How businesses can embrace “charity begins at home”

We all know the expression ‘charity begins at home’, but why then do so many people make a mess of it in their own lives and businesses?

How businesses can embrace “charity begins at home”

A part of the British past, which many citizens would prefer to have expunged from their history, was the Roman invasion in 43 BCE, which resulted in the Romans ruling much of present-day Britain for over three-and-a-half centuries.

In the late 14th century, English historian John Wycliffe was researching this sad period in the life of Britons, pondering why and how it had been possible for Roman soldiers to defeat the great armies of the British kingdoms and subjugate their people for so long.

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In his search for answers, he stumbled upon the history of playwright Publius Terentius After, better known as Terence, who used to entertain Roman soldiers with stories of why they should zealously look after themselves before worrying about other people.

It triggered an epiphany for Wycliffe, who suddenly realised that the Roman philosophy of looking after themselves before worrying about others could be the key to the Roman success in plundering and rampaging in Britain.

In his subsequent writings, Wycliffe expounded this philosophy, and in the language of those times, wrote: “Charity should begin at himself .”

In 1642, English writer Sir Thomas Browne edited Wycliffe’s language and words and the saying we all know so well today, ‘charity begins at home’, was born.

For us today, it seems so obvious that one’s primary focus and priority in life should be to look after one’s own interests.

There is no question of needing a ‘philosophy’ to justify this attitude. It’s understood and accepted. Why then is it so often ignored?

Personal Charity

You owe yourself the ‘charity’ that enables you to build a long and productive life, uplifting your family, your friends, your colleagues and your community. Here’s my take on the three key priorities in everyone’s ‘charitable’ responsibilities.

Health: Number one priority is protection of your health. Without it, you’re going to be pretty useless to everyone, your family, your friends, your business and society in general.

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Don’t be paranoid about it, but make time for regular exercise, eat the right foods, and have routine medical check-ups.

Family: Next comes your family. Uninterrupted quality time with them is crucial. Providing for their health and education and enabling them to reach their full potential is your responsibility.

Business: Only now comes your career and business. Like many others, at one time in my life I got the order reversed and it did me no good. Don’t make the same mistake!

Friends: Finally comes the time you should spend with friends, neighbours, local institutions and fellow citizens. Money is probably the least important charitable gift you can make. Your time and expertise is worth far more.

Business charity

But what about businesses’ charitable role in society? Have you built charitable activities into your businesses mission, vision, and values?

Charitable giving provides the business a sense of purpose, strengthens connection with the community, and builds morale for both you and your employees. Being sincerely and sensibly charitable is good business!

An inviolate rule in my book is ‘buy local’. Whether for goods or services, supporting your local suppliers is always first choice.

Obviously sound commercial principles must always apply, but never go out of town before giving the locals a crack at it. To do anything else is bad management and it’ll come back to bite.

Here is a story to prove it:

Arthur, a tech-savvy, community-minded friend in a small platteland town, let’s call it Hilltop, created an app to help residents and businesses find goods and services locally.

It was his charitable contribution to the community, but it needed support from all Hilltop suppliers to plug in and provide details of their inventory. Support for his initiative came from all quarters, except for one, Jackson’s local hardware store.

Jackson’s response became known and people began to avoid his store. When the neighbouring town’s co-operative saw the gap and started a hardware delivery service, it was the beginning of the end for Jackson’s.

It wasn’t the cost or quality of Jackson’s goods that killed the business, but rather their lack of charity in a small community.
People buy with their heads and their hearts, and business, like charity, always begins at home!

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