3 ways to give better.
“The heart that gives, gathers” — Tao Te Ching
Giving is great isn’t it?
The sudden flood of endorphins as we hand something that we have in plenty, or that we don’t need, to somebody desperately requiring what we are giving. The joyful payback of obligatory gratitude ringing in our ears. The status update on our Facebook page/CV/wall plaque broadcasting our name in lights. The silent smirk in the mirror whilst repelling social approval as a disingenuous show of humility, all the while lapping up the attention like a needy child.
Giving is a part of life. One of the few areas where a physical transaction does not occur in both directions. Often the reciprocation is intangible. A warm fuzzy feeling of doing good, of helping another, is enough to perpetuate our altruism. An understanding also that our skills and income can be used for means beyond our hedonism and self-interest, leads us to donate our time and money. Neither of these reasons are morally questionable as such. Yet they do not fully represent the art of giving well. The caricature in the first paragraph often represents many of the problems in the way we give today, whether that be to friend or stranger.
Wishing to stretch my limits and based on ancient Eastern philosophy I have been taught through life, the following are three concepts advocated which help define to me an advanced notion of giving well:
1. Giving without expectation of return
Living in a capitalist society, much of our actions and relationships are contingently built upon a quid pro quo arrangement. We understand and play on this notion of obligation, as a good deed done today can be banked as currency for a future favour. Isn’t this why companies schmooze clients, as a small gift will result in another contract/project/investment?
This mentality often feeds over into personal expectations within family and friends. Like it or not, expectation defines and in many cases destroys relationships. Much of the expectation we have of others is based on previous episodes of give and take, where people have neither met our expectations nor we theirs. Ironically this tends to affect those relationships most close to us. I have seen close family ties dissolve over (relatively petty) incidents of expectation. And yet it is in the closest of relationships (i.e. mother and child) where the unconditional nature of giving without expectation remains an ideal for us to aspire to.
As a donor, we rarely give without expecting nothing in return. After all, our own perceived value of our time and money is arguably greater now than it ever has been, due to the increased opportunity cost of greater choice. We could be doing so much with our free time/money that anything we give to another carries a greater weight of obligation.
Would it not be a wonderful life lesson for us to learn to give unconditionally? To give without any expectation of return, without any ulterior motive of profit or progress, which is so counter-intuitive to the world we currently inhabit.
Can we do something positive and constructive for somebody else with the full understanding that the action will never be reciprocated?
2. Giving as a habit, not when you have plenty.
My issue with philanthropy is not that there is a dependency created between donor and recipient, or that it provides a moral silver lining to a rather dark cloud of materialistic accumulation. It actually is that is encourages a philosophy of giving only once you have enough. Philanthropy may well be an ‘effective’ form of altruism (a greater ability to influence change), but in my opinion, creating institutions, charities and foundations only once you are set up for life feels morally bankrupt. It is like the selfish child who ensures she has eaten enough before she decides to share with others.
Giving philanthropically also encourages a fanfare attitude around the donation, rather than a habit which is less likely to inflate the Ego.
The act of giving well must involve giving away even when you have little. Set aside a little of what you have, whether it is time or money. Give regularly, give generously, not only in quantity, but in spirit.
3. Giving anonymously
To do something for another such that nobody would ever know. Many people donate to charity anonymously and volunteer their time quietly. But to build this attitude into our psyche of anonymous giving, such that even the intangible payback of gratitude is not received, is difficult.
There is often a donor-receipient complex involved in the act of giving, such that an obligation is created. One party feels superior to the other. This is something I was taught at a young age, and its impact did not hit me until much later in life. This concept feels so alien in a world where social media broadcasting creates our own newsfeed. We are surrounded by people building their generosity brands and making sure we damn well know about it too.
I also don’t doubt that many give to others anonymously and that we don’t know about it! In recent times I too have started to give without telling a soul. It is difficult for my Ego to always keep it quiet, as it enjoys the adulation and approval of others. Nonetheless it is for this very reason I feel it is an important mechanism to learn humility and a step in my own personal development.
Can you give to another without ever letting the recipient feel obliged? Can you control your Ego from wanting to beat your chest and show the world how generous you are?
Giving well is ultimately an exercise in controlling the self. It is about understanding that often, how we give to another is more important than what we give.
The above are three improvements I am trying to make in my life to give better. Much of it has been taken from Eastern scriptures, including the Bhagavad Gita. Hopefully these resonate with you. Alternatively add in any other ways of giving well as a response. I would love to hear from you!