“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” ─Dalai Lama

Don’t give until it hurts; give until it feels good

Life is exciting, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t stressful. We’re bound to run into difficulties and sure to get caught in storms. And when we do, we appreciate the extended arm of a friend, offering help. Whatever form it takes, their kindness and generosity is like the sun breaking through a bank of black clouds. The only thing better than receiving generosity is offering it to others. If we can be instruments that banish gloom from others’ lives, our own will be filled with purpose.

Generosity is the willingness to share freely with others. Generous people are happy because they are following nature. Just as it is the nature of the sun to nurture life, it is the nature of man to help those in need. Primitive man survived by sharing with his family and tribe the food brought back from the hunt.

The tradition of helping others is well recorded in the bible. For example, the following verses reveal that it was the custom to help the poor 3,300 years ago, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner.” (Leviticus 19:9~10) Again, in Isaiah 58:10-11 it is written “Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy you with all good things, and keep you healthy too; and you will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.” The above verses imply the second reason why generous people are happy. When we freely give, we do not deplete our resources, but replenish them like an “ever-flowing spring.”

The idea that the more we give, the more we will receive is a common theme in all religious traditions. And for good reason, it is based on common sense. After all, the more people we help, the larger the reservoir of possible allies in our time of need. The more people we lend a hand to, the greater our network of friends and willing assistants. If we wish to live life to the fullest, we will be generous, for as the Sanskrit Proverb says, “He who allows his day to pass by without practicing generosity and enjoying life’s pleasures is like a blacksmith’s bellows ─ he breathes but does not live.”

What would you do if you won the lottery? If you are like most Canadians, chances are you would share a portion of your winnings with a charity. However, you don’t have to be rich to be generous. Take, Oseola McCarty, for example. She lived a modest life in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. This sixth-grade graduate worked as a washerwoman in the homes of the wealthy for 75 years. Each time she was paid for washing and ironing a load of clothes, she put a small amount into a savings account. When she was 89, she discovered she had accumulated $250,000. Believing she didn’t need that much money, she gave $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi, setting up a fund to help needy African-American students.

True, when compared with the BILLIONS of dollars donated by some American philanthropists, Miss McCarty’s contribution was small indeed. However, here is what Christ had to say about the matter, “And [Jesus] looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.’“ (Luke 21:1-4)

We don’t need money to be generous; we can be generous by giving recognition, attention, praise, kindness, and love. We can be generous in thought, word, and deed. We can donate our time, knowledge, and skills. We can offer our patience, understanding, and encouragement. We can be a fount of hope, a haven of peace, an oasis of joy. Neither do we have to travel far to practice generosity. We can begin at home by giving moral support to our parents, spouse, children, and siblings. We can then extend our generosity to the workplace, our community, and the world at large.

When we act generously before others, we boost our ego, but when we are generous in secret, we elevate our soul. The greater the generosity, the greater the joy experienced by both the giver and receiver. When do we offer “great” generosity? It is when we give more than we imagine we can. Also, when we give what cannot be replaced, we prove that those in need have higher value than possessions. Finally, when we are sensitive to the needs of others, we will be more concerned with the timing of our gift than the size of it.

We are often the benefactors of the generosity of others. Let’s not forget to pass on the acts of kindness we receive. Or, as Henry Burton wrote:

“Have you had a kindness shown?
Pass it on; ‘twas not given for thee alone,
Pass it on; Let it travel down the years,
Let it wipe another’s tears,
Till in Heaven the deed appears, Pass it on.”

More about Generosity

Generosity, or altruism, is a beautiful word because it contains within itself many more virtues. For how can you be generous if you are not already kind, unselfish, and compassionate? Generous people care more about others than they do about money, for they will do without luxuries so that others won’t have to do without necessities. Those who have yet to develop a generous heart also do without, for they do without the pleasures of giving.

The highest form of giving is unconditional giving. That is, giving anonymously, with no need or desire of recognition. The difference between giving with much fanfare and giving in secret is the difference between wishing to appear generous and wishing to be generous.

Like a healthy diet, generosity is good for us. According to the latest research, altruism increases life satisfaction by 27%. To put it another way, if we are not generous, we reduce our overall satisfaction by 27% or more. Some people may hold on to their money because they believe money brings happiness. But does it? According to a 2008 study by the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School, money can bring happiness, but only if we share it with others. And for those who are fortunate enough to be relatively well-off, giving as little as five dollars a day can significantly boost happiness.

So it appears we were given the instructions to love our neighbor as ourselves for a good reason: it is the formula for happiness. The Bible’s teaching can be expressed many ways. For instance, Booker T. Washington said, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” And Sir James Matthew Barrie creator of Peter Pan, wrote, “Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”

For the latest scientific research on the benefits of generosity, see: Why Good Things Happen to Good People: The Exciting New Research that Proves the Link Between Doing Good and Living a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by Stephen Post and Jill Neimark.

Yes, there are many benefits to giving, but as soon as one gives because of the benefits, the benefits vaporize; there are none. For those who give in order to receive, are not giving at all, they are merely manipulating others in the hope of getting something in return. The benefits of giving come only to those who are sincere.

An especially interesting benefit of giving is, although they don’t know it, generous people program themselves for success. But before I explain how and why, I need to briefly explain how our subconscious works. Designed to be our servant, our subconscious works 24 hours a day, seven days a week carrying out the instructions we give it.

Instructions? What instructions? Well, our subconscious assumes that what we believe and what we think about is what we want. Its role is not to judge whether our thoughts are good or bad, but merely to listen, obey, and bring about whatever it believes we want. And because of its great power, it is very successful in bringing about whatever we believe and think about.

Let’s look at an example. Mary believes she is poor. She spends most of her time thinking about how poor she is. “Oh, I wish I wasn’t so poor. I always have to borrow money from my friends. Why am I so poor? I just can’t get out of this rut. I’ll never have any money…” Her belief and thoughts are interpreted to be instructions by her subconscious. Unknown to Mary, her subconscious is saying, “Okay, Mary, I received your instructions. You want to be poor. Don’t worry. I’ll look after you. No matter what, I’ll grant your wish and make you poor.”

Now, let’s see how this plays out. Although Mary is always complaining about her poverty, a funny thing happens. Guess what? Mary wins the lottery. She wins $1.2 million dollars. Wow! She is now a millionaire. Now that she is, how does she act? Does she say to herself, “I’d better see a financial advisor to help me protect my newfound wealth?” No, she has entirely different thoughts. Here’s what she’s thinking, “Wow!” I’m a millionaire! All my troubles are over! I feel wonderful. Wouldn’t it be great to win even more? That’s a fantastic idea. That’s what I’ll do! I’m going to the casino, and by the time I’m through, I’ll be a billionaire!”

Yes, Mary went to the casino, but she didn’t become a billionaire. Quite the contrary, she lost everything! What went wrong? Well, Mary had already programmed herself to be poor, so after she won the lottery, her subconscious considered her winnings to be inconsistent with her ‘wish’ to be poor. In other words, her winnings were seen as an obstacle that needed to be removed. And almost as quickly as she received her winnings, she lost it all, thanks to her subconscious that figured out how to get rid of the ‘obstacle.’

Now we are ready to see how generous people program themselves for success. Generous people are grateful for what they have and, unlike Mary, often think to themselves, “I have more than I need.” Their subconscious then interprets that as “I want to have more than I need. Then it works feverishly behind the scenes making sure they always have more than they need. Thus, generous people unknowingly program themselves for success. This is an example of the truth in the adage “Virtue is its own reward.” And generous people also discover the more they give, the less they need. No wonder they are such happy people.

A few days ago, a woman told me about the time she was waiting in line at the airport. Ahead of her was an elderly woman who was irritable, vociferously complaining, and upsetting all those around her. The woman went on to explain that she stepped out of line, went to a souvenir shop, and bought a small teddy bear. She then went to the elderly lady and said, “It looks like you are having a difficult day. Here’s a little companion that may cheer you up.” The elderly lady broke down in tears, saying that no one had ever been so kind to her. Imagine how good both of them felt.

Up until this point, I’ve written about giving money or things, but very often the greatest gifts of all are free. After all, people are starving for recognition, acceptance, praise, encouragement, and a welcoming smile, which is all in our power to give at no cost to ourselves. What greater gift can we give than ourselves? And that’s exactly what we give when we willingly and cheerfully spend time with others.

All religions encourage its members to practice charity. But charity sometimes is reduced to a ritual practice. That is, we give because we are commanded to give, but that type of sterile giving is devoid of joyfulness. True giving flows from one’s heart and is nothing less than love of one’s neighbor. Although It is possible to give without loving, it is impossible to love without giving. When we give others the gift of our company, we are giving them bits of our life, and it is in giving our life that we find it. For when we give of ourselves, we discover meaning, purpose, and joyfulness.

Every time we perform one good deed, we perform two. For in addition to our good deed, we also give the gift of a good example, inspiring others to do likewise and making the world a better place. When we give to others, let our goal be to forget what we gave, but when we receive from others, may we never forget. And choosing to be generous is more helpful to us than it is to others. Also, if we find it difficult to part with our cherished possessions, it means they own us, rather than the other way around.

The number of homeless people and beggars seems to be increasing in large cities, and they are often viewed as pests. Suppose you were approached by two people asking for money. One is scruffy, unkempt, smelly, and vulgar; the other is neat, mild-mannered, and polite. If you were going to give to one of them, which one would it be? This is not a test. There is no right or wrong answer because giving to either is equally generous. But if it were me, I would give it to the scruffy, unkempt, smelly, and vulgar one because he is the one least likely to receive help, and therefore in most need of it. Similarly, when I adopted a cat from the animal shelter, I picked the most unlovable one. After all, handsome, friendly cats wouldn’t need my help, others would be happy to adopt them. If we’re going to help, why not help those most in need?

When it comes to beggars in the street, an argument could be made that we should not give them any money because they will just use it to buy liquor or drugs. You see, the argument continues, by giving them money, you are enabling them, encouraging them to continue their addiction. If you really loved them, the argument concludes, you wouldn’t support their addiction.

But how can we know how a beggar will use the money? I have given money thinking it would probably be wasted on booze, only to see the person I gave the money to rush into a fast food restaurant to buy a sandwich. Of course, the opposite has also happened. I have been asked, in the most convincing manner, for money to buy food, and as soon as they got the money, they ran to buy liquor. But since I can’t be sure of the intentions of beggars, I prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Besides, even if it were certain that the money would be spent on alcohol, giving money might be the right thing to do. Perhaps, the individual asking for a handout is feeling suicidal, and if he cannot raise any money, may commit suicide. But if he gets some money for whiskey, at least he will be able to cope with life for another day. And, who knows? That extra day you have given him may be the day he turns his life around.

My earlier question about which beggar, neat or scruffy, you would give money to was not a test. But now I have a test for you. It is in the form of a story. After the story I will ask you a question. Answer it in your mind, and I will make a few comments about your answer.

Imagine you live in an apartment building. It is a beautiful Sunday morning and you decide to take a short walk down the street to visit a popular coffee shop. You leave your building and head for the coffee shop when, suddenly, a large flower pot comes hurtling down to the ground, landing in front of you, smashing to smithereens, just one inch from your toes. Your body is shaking as you realize that only a few inches separated you from life or death. You step further away from your building and look up, trying to figure out what happened.

“Aha! Now I know!” you say to yourself. You are looking at the balcony of Mrs. Benson. She lives on the seventh floor, just below you. Although not officially friends, you know her and always greet her when you meet in the elevator or lobby of the building. Mrs. Benson loves flowers, many of which she bought from the flower shop down the street. Obviously, the flower pot that just missed killing you was precariously placed too close to the edge of her balcony and came toppling down.

Here’s the question. Now that you know you were nearly killed by Mrs. Benson’s flower pot, what do you do? Stop and think about that for a moment. In order not to distract you, I will leave a gap between my question and my comments. My comments about the flower pot story will appear at the very end of the article.

Thankfully the world doesn’t have to depend on millionaires for help because there are so few of them. It is ordinary people like you and me that make the biggest difference, so never underestimate the importance of your good deeds. And don’t forget to love and be kind to yourself as well.

Here are my comments about the flower pot story. If you called the police, reported her to the condo management, complained to Mrs. Benson, or did anything else out of anger, you are perfectly normal and behaved as most people would.

But if you went to the flower shop to buy a replacement flower pot and flower, gave it to Mrs. Benson, explaining that one of her favorite flower pots lies destroyed on the sidewalk below, and letting her know that fortunately no one was killed, but if something similar happens again, someone may die. So, since neither of you want an innocent person to be killed in a flower pot accident, you offer to inspect all flower pots, tightly securing any that are loose. If you have done some or all of these things, congratulations, you are truly generous!

Generosity in Canada

What kind of people are we? We are kind people! According to Liane Greenberg and Sandra Bozzo’s report for the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy, 89% of Ontario’s population aged 15 and older made charitable contributions during the year. As 89% of us are already giving, there may not be much of a need to remind people of its importance. Yet, if we value doing good, we may be interested in learning how and why we can and should do better.

How can we improve?

Throughout the year, we are swamped with telephone, direct mail, and media appeals for our help. And we respond. This type of giving is spontaneous rather than planned. However, research shows that those who plan to give before being asked, give more. Therefore, the first way we can improve is to plan our giving. For when we plan, instead of just responding to a solicitation, we are focusing on the needs of others and therefore give more generously. Moreover, those who plan their contributions are still inclined to make spontaneous donations as well, so there is a double benefit. The direct mail pieces, telephone solicitations, and media ads that you respond to have to be paid for by the charities. So, the more we plan our contributions, the less charities will have to advertise and pay for. When we change our giving habits, we find that we could have afforded to give more all along. The only thing we cannot afford is to allow others to suffer needlessly because of our inaction.

True, 89% of us are already giving; however, 44% of all the donations made in Ontario are made by the top 5% of the donors. The next 20% of donors contributed 34% of the total. Thus, 25% of the donors were responsible for 78% of the contributions. Although the support of the remaining 75% of the contributors is appreciated, their gifts just represent 22% of the total. Where do we fit into the picture? Most likely we do not belong to the small 5% group of major contributors. In fact, the odds are that we are in the 75% group, making a valuable, but small contribution. So, the second way we can improve is not only by planning to give, but planning to give more.

Nearly one third of our charitable support is done indirectly. That is, instead of making a direct cash donation to our local hospital, we buy one or more lottery tickets in hope of winning a free home. Of course, our purchase helps the hospital, but they have to deduct their marketing and printing expenses. Direct giving is superior to indirect giving in two ways. First, the recipient of our direct donation receives more because they do not have to pay for any incentives. Second, it is better for us spiritually. For we think of others when we contribute directly, but think of ourselves when we contribute indirectly, such as when we buy lottery tickets. Direct giving, then, is the third way we can improve.

What is the pattern of giving according to age group? Those who give the most are 35 – 44 years old, followed by those 65 and older. The 15 – 24 age group contributes the least. If we belong to this young age group, we can start contributing more now. If we are older, we cannot turn back the clock and grow younger, but we can encourage, teach, and assist our children in learning the values of sharing. This is a fourth way of improving.

Let’s move on to spiritual considerations about giving. First, how shall we give? Seneca explains, “We should give as we would receive, cheerfully, quickly, and without hesitation; for there is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers.”

Second, why should we give? Isn’t serving others the only way we can serve Life? Aren’t we the tools that Life uses to help those in need? The answers to their prayers come in the form of our help. Consider also the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.”

Also worthy of note are the words of John Adams: “If we do not lay out ourselves in the service of mankind whom should we serve?” Isn’t it also true that when we give relief to others, we feel relieved; when we offer them peace, we grow peaceful, and when we sprinkle them with joy, we become joyful? Besides, as Albert Pike wrote, “What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”

Third, when shall we give? Samuel Johnson answers, “Let him that desires to see others happy, make haste to give while his gifts can be enjoyed, and remember that every moment of delay takes away something from the value of his benefaction.”

Fourth, what shall we give? The answer lies in an Arab Proverb, “If you have much, give of your wealth; if you have little give of your heart.” To this Kahlil Gibran adds, “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” We give ourselves by serving others. And it makes sense to do so, for how can we discover ourselves or become ourselves without giving ourselves? If we would be perfect in our giving, we can follow the example of St. Ignatius Loyola who prayed, “To give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not ask for any reward except that of knowing we do Thy will.”

In closing, I would like to quote someone else who wrote, “Somebody did a golden deed; Somebody proved a friend in need; Somebody sang a beautiful song; Somebody smiled the whole day long; Somebody thought, ‘Tis sweet to live; Somebody said, ‘I’m glad to give;’ Somebody fought a valiant fight; Somebody lived to shield the right.” Why don’t we become that somebody?