Nobody likes to listen to someone brag about themselves. The best charity is done anonymously and performed in silence. Your gift, about the person receiving it, not about yourself. Doing a good act to aggrandize oneself, to revel in one’s goodness, doesn’t make the act bad per se, but it just seems wrongheaded. When you are constantly trumpeting something good you may have done, you make it seem like you don’t care about the beneficiary, like you’re just acting out your own tumescent ego.
All of this is in the way of asking how should I discuss my kidney donation without sounding like simply a self-righteous jerk? I ask this as someone who’s probably more than a bit self-righteous (though hopefully not more than a bit of a jerk). Perhaps a better question is, should I talk about it at all? Better, perhaps, to give quietly and unassumingly, to make it about the gift rather than the giver.
Few have accused me of being quiet and unassuming: Where’s the fun in that? I’d like to think, however, that my telling people about my donation isn’t driven by some desire for recognition (not typically my thing) or to hear the sound of my own voice (definitely my thing). In part, my desire to tell people reflects the drive to be honest about what’s going on in my life. I could horde my privacy from those who ask me about why I’m taking my time off of work, but why not just tell them the truth?
Perhaps to be so detailed is immodest, but if so, it’s immodesty in pursuit of a good cause. As I’ve gone through with my donation, several friends I’ve talked to about it have begun exploring whether that decision would be a good one for themselves. When I see the gleam of curiosity in the eyes of coworkers to whom I tell my story, I can’t help but thinking that if one of them were asked by a loved one in need, the fact that they knew someone who donated might lead to them being generous and feeling better about the choice.
I feel like the biggest obstacle to people giving a kidney, more even than whatever sacrifice donation involves, is that it doesn’t seem like a regular, everyday, choice: potential donors (that’s you, dear reader) don’t approach it as a feasible option, to be selected or rejected depending on one’s preferences. Spreading awareness that someone you may know, someone like you, has donated their kidney and (fingers crossed) been perfectly OK may bring donation a bit closer to being a significant but standard choice in your mind.
It may seem that the reason altruistic kidney donation feels like such an unusual gift is just that it imposes a greater harm than other choices that are more typical. This misunderstands the costs of kidney donation (it’s a laparoscopic surgery, has no impact on the donor’s long term health, and does not increase the donor’s chance of kidney disease), but more importantly, regarding giving a kidney as an extraordinary sacrifice undersells the difficulty of decisions that are considered normal and are made every day. Thousands of college graduates devote two years of their lives to working 80-hour weeks teaching underprivileged students at Teach for America; thousands more go to developing countries in the Peace Corps. Even more commonly, soldiers volunteer to leave the comforts and safety of the modern U.S. to serve their country in places where every day could ruin their lives with gunfire or an IED. All of these people take up far greater burdens than those assumed by donors, but people picture them as sane, reasonable options for how to do good in the world: noble, yes, but more importantly, normal. I want to tell my own story so that people can see that a donor can be a normal person with a normal story. Someone who’s non-heroic and flawed, someone who can be stubborn and slothful, someone who has a higher opinion of himself than he probably should, someone who isn’t above using his donation to impress women. By talking about my donation and showing readers that, yes, real people, normal people, actually do make this choice, I hope to make it seem like one that’s worth considering. Sure, I want readers to think donating a kidney is a good decision, but really, I’d settle for it just seeming like a sane one.