03/31/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Haiti Tragedy Shines a LIght on the American Spirit

There's a lot of discussion about where the American spirit is these days. Republicans and Democrats have positions on this, and Independents are often perceived to be the gauge. While this 'Independents as Thermometers' trend plays itself through, real Americans are actually doing what they always do. They are stepping up to the plate of human need with human kindness. In this season of political hullabaloo, Haiti is no longer front page; nor is it leading the nightly news. Still, this terrible tragedy remains in the hearts of the American people. Just walk through Wal-Mart or many local supermarkets and see how many Americans are digging into their pockets to give $1 or more to help those in Haiti. Churches, synagogues and temples across this country have congregations, even in the poorest neighborhoods, who are taking up collections for Haiti, too.

Giving is an American tradition and phenomenon. Even in these tough and uncertain times, Americans are willing to share their time and treasure to assist victims; especially those now experiencing such an unprecedented catastrophe. We tend to give the most during the most difficult times.

Foundations and corporations are writing checks, (...and Brad and Angelina were quick to step forward with $1 million), but it is ordinary Americans who are dropping a few dollars into the jar at grocery stores or donating $10 by text via cell phones, or even soliciting friends on Facebook, who are really making the difference. Contributions now run north of $525 million to 40 U.S. charities who are taking the lead in rescue and emergency relief efforts. We texters, alone, have thus far given more than $30 million, with the majority going to the tried and trusted American Red Cross.

In fact, the digital revolution has championed change in more than campaign giving; it has revolutionized charitable giving. Of those Americans who donated to Haiti, over 40 percent used new media: 14 percent gave via text message, 23 percent gave via the web and 5 percent gave by email. Another 12 percent was donated the old fashioned way: over the telephone.
The beautiful thing about all of this is that it isn't just money that Americans are sending to Haiti. Volunteers continue to eagerly offer their services, even as we daily learn of new dangers to all who are present there. George Clooney organized the Hope for Haiti telethon in just a week and 20 performers answered his call and took to the stage. More than 100 other stars showed up to work phone banks. This week, John Travolta and his wife flew their 707 into Port-au-Prince loaded with supplies and volunteers. And, Wyclef Jean, who long has been dedicated to helping his country, continues to accelerate his efforts to keep the plight of Haitians in the public eye through speaking, Facebook, Twitter and the internet.

Hundreds of Americans are volunteering in their daily lives. There are Soles 4 Souls drives going on across the U.S., wherein people are donating desperately needed shoes. Food drives are in progress, and many volunteers are using vacations to help with the clean-up and recovery.

It is amazing that 70 to 85 percent of U.S. families make charitable contributions each year. We give away more than twice as much per individual as the citizens of even the most generous European nations. While churches and other religious causes get the lion's share - about a third - the remainder goes to education, health and other needs. And contrary to what many might think, those who have problems making ends meet are the country's biggest per capita givers. Households with incomes below $20,000 give a higher percentage to charity than any other income group, averaging 4.6 percent. Then again, most waiters can tell you who the best tippers are!

Over these last few weeks, clichés have come to mind: "One person's trash is another person's treasure." "Count your blessings, one by one." And, my mother's favorite, "Do what you can!" There are often bad reasons that clichés exist, but in this instance, we can be very warmed and humbled by the good reasons these clichés live on. They live on because the spirit of generosity and neighborliness lives on in the average, real Americans. They live on because, when push comes to shove, Americans get moving!

The tragedy Haitians have endured, and will continue to face for some time now, will live on in hearts across the world. It will be the everyday Americans who will continue to pass the plate, service by service, as a little country rebuilds itself...hopefully in a better way.

Why are Americans always ready to help? I'll tell you why: Because we are so grateful for all we have, even as we seek better futures for our children. Not just for the material things. We remain grateful for our freedoms and our ability to think and do for ourselves. We have a heritage of working together - even when we disagree with each other - to help our neighbors. What we have is a great sense of unity to strive for a better life - for ourselves and others. No matter what our individual heritages, our individual ethnicities and religions, The American Spirit is one of our common threads. It's now in our DNA.