The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Feeling down in the dumps over non-donors in the family

(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

Dear Carolyn:

Two years ago, my adult daughter was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She is very optimistic and has taken part in fundraisers because she feels she owes it to those who came before her who did the same. We formed a team for our local MS walk last year and invited our co-workers and members from my very large family to donate or walk or both.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for the Walk turned to hurt when her aunts and others we thought were close did nothing. My daughter is the type who donates and volunteers for everything.

For months I could barely talk to my sisters and some co-workers because I was so hurt. I shared my hurt with a co-worker and she said she would donate, but never did. I didn’t care about the money, I wanted her there.

Another walk is coming and I’m not sure how to proceed — swallow my pride and share my hurt, or just embrace the ones who show up?

To Pout or Not to Pout?

Your signature is your answer. When has the answer to that (or any) question ever been, “to pout”?

Besides — the first law of rallying people to your cause is to learn to embrace the No.

You care, deeply, about issues that affect you, and it’s a good thing you do. Now extend that to other people: They care, deeply, about issues that affect them, and it’s a good thing they do. This is how things get done.

When you choose to rally others to your issue, never forget that each person you approach has his or her deeply felt causes. Some of these people will have room on their issue slate to add yours to it, and for these people you thank the moon and stars. (Thanking them is also a good idea.)

Some, though, will not have room on their slates. And for these people you don’t hurt, or pass around blame, or curse their cosmic failure to be — how did you put it “the type who donates and volunteers for everything.”

No, for these people, you also thank the moon and stars. Their focus on their own priorities — even if it’s just, “Get out of bed in the morning” — keeps a part of the world turning, even if it doesn’t happen to be yours this time around. Trust that and be grateful for it. The idea of donating and volunteering for everything is lovely in theory, but unrealistic in the first place and impossible in the second.

So the path with the most reliable rewards is to choose gratitude. When you feel powerless against a harmful force, it’s natural to try to make the world compensate you with something good. But that’s just as fruitless as telling MS to buzz off. Consciously stop looking for absences on your donor lists, and celebrate those who appear. Be your own source of something good.

To that end, when others bring their causes to you, keep choosing gratitude by giving what and when you’re able. It’ll be tempting to eye these campaigns as payback (or in this case, I guess, not-pay-back), but what is this ever about except the people we love? So show love in your way, and trust others to do so in theirs.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at



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