Just at random in recent days we've had:
- Farmers managing director Rod McDermott said the company wanted to give back to the communities in which it had operated for the past 100 years.
- A "partnership with prisoners" that will deliver "a great opportunity for the men to give back to the community"
- A former primary school principal "looking to find out how I could give back to the community"
Everyone from schools to pub charities to successful sports and business men and women talk about "giving something back," but isn't it true that the only people who need to "give it back" are the the thieves and burglars who've taken something first (like the politicians who talk and talk about their years of "public service" spent in the trough)?
Philosopher Stephen Hicks thinks so. Says Stephen:
Like many other people, I am troubled by this phrase when I hear it.
The usual scenario: A successful person makes a donation to a worthy cause but downplays any praise by saying “I’m only giving back.”
The usual gentle rejoinder is to point out that the phrase assumes that the giver has taken something from others in the first place — he’s borrowed or stolen something and in “giving back” is merely restoring it to its rightful owners. That zero-sum assumption is usually untrue: most donors have earned what they have. So the phrase “giving back” contains within it an injustice: a false accusation.
Yet there is more to it: the phrase also denies the benevolence of the giver. If you are only giving back what is rightfully someone else’s, then you do not deserve any special praise for your action. Your benevolence need not be acknowledged or honored.
So the phrase really is a double injustice: it implies that you do not deserve what you have and it denies you any credit you deserve for your benevolent act. (Or to put it abstractly: It is the imputation of an undeserved negative and the denial of a deserved positive.)
So far so bad.
But it gets worse.
How much worse? Read on.