The gift you give

There are two reasons I’ve been thinking and writing about generosity: first, I know I’ll be happier the more generous I am, so I’m practicing.  Second, by experiencing the rewards of my own generosity, I will be able to translate something I KNOW into something I FEEL.

Let me explain.

Most people don’t feel comfortable asking other people for donations to causes they believe in.  I’ve been told often, even by people who give a lot, that there’s deep discomfort in “hitting up my friends,” and I’ve witnessed fabulous nonprofit professionals who commit their lives to a cause, yet who somehow cannot bring themselves to stand in front of someone and ask them to fund the cause in which they so deeply believe.  And even fundraisers box themselves in to comfort levels of what kind and size of donations they’ve decided they can ask for.

So here’s the thought experiment: yesterday I wrote about the $20 I gave to a guy who asked for money on the subway.  And what I experienced was that I came out ahead.  Personally, I got more out of giving than the $20 I gave away.

Of course this makes sense.  Whenever anyone gives a donation, they are coming out ahead.  They are deciding freely to give the money away, which means that they are getting something of more personal value than the money they are giving away.  And the kicker is that it doesn’t matter if the person is giving a gift of $20 or $2,000 or $20,000,000.

What that value is will vary for every person – it could be the economic value their gift is creating through lost suffering and economic hardship; the moral value of righting an injustice; the social value of putting one’s name on a plaque or a list or on the side of a building; the psychic value of helping someone (the donor) become the person she wants to be.

Intellectually, I get it and you get it.  But until we all feel it in our gut, we hold ourselves back.  Until we feel it our gut, we believe on some quiet level that the playing field is unbalanced, that the person doing the giving is in one way or another on higher ground than the person doing the asking.

By making a practice of your own generosity, you have a chance to remind yourself: they are the ones getting the deal; you are the one giving the gift.

You are the one who has something special, something precious, that you are offering up to them at a bargain price.


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