Our stories hold truths for us.
One of my truths is that my journey into generosity began with an encounter with a person on the NYC subway asking for money (FOR homeless people, he was not himself homeless as far as I know).
Saying “No” in that situation makes a lot of sense. If you don’t believe that, check out Zorro’s very personal comment to yesterday’s post. He said that his son is homeless, that if someone gives his son money that money will be spent on drugs, that giving to his son is irresponsible behavior.
I don’t know the big answer to the question that Zorro is asking. My personal answer has been that saying “no” all the time and automatically made me feel less human; and I also don’t believe that every dollar given to a homeless person makes that person worse off.
Even though my story started there, Generosity Day isn’t, for me, about whether or not I give to the homeless. That said, at the outset, I did feel like giving money more freely was a critical ingredient (the critical ingredient?) to my own practice of generosity. Four years in, I don’t feel that as strongly, but I still ask myself whether an active practice of giving is essential to a practice of generosity. Put another way, can I fully explore generosity without directly confronting my relationship to money?
This is one in a long list of questions that’s a work-in-process for me, but here’s where I am today: in today’s society money plays a huge role in defining us. It is one of our scorecards and an important source of our identity. (Ugly to say that out loud, but it feels like a fair generalization). And I think that part of seeing abundance and our good fortune in the world is letting go more of the money we have. This is where the ancient notion of tithing comes from – that our good fortune flows from the blessings we have received, and part of our work on earth is to share these blessings with others. (Even if a conversation with religious or doctrinaire underpinnings isn’t your cup of tea, I think it’s impossible to look at the world – the whole world – and deny that some or even most of my or your good fortune is due to accidents of birth. We won a lottery we never knew we’d entered. At yet, ironically, it is mostly up to us to decide what to do with that abundance.)
That said, my own practice of giving money is still evolving. These are hard, challenging, very personal questions. Broadly, I do give more than I used to and, as important, I agonize much much less about each time I give. I experience less scarcity. And that feels right to me.
I also know that this is only part of the equation. These days I’m as interested in generosity of spirit, the generosity of a heartfelt apology, the generosity of giving time to help another, the generosity of putting yourself out there and (really truly) expecting nothing in return. So today, for where I am, money is not the focus of my own inquiry, but it’s an important piece of the puzzle. That said, I do feel that a practice of generosity, a practice of recognizing and sharing abundance, must impact to how we think about, hold on to, and let go of our money.
My hope for this year’s Generosity Day is that people will share their own stories of generosity – the questions they ask themselves, the insights they’ve gained, the fears they confronted (or failed to confront). Simple stories. Happy stories. Hard stories. Stories that make you laugh.
Stories about what they did on Generosity Day – and before and after.
Fun tools on the Generosity Day site make it easier to commit today to what you’ll do tomorrow. Or just throw a #generosityday into your online updates and we’ll see it!
4 thoughts on “Generosity Day – is it about the money?”
“I don’t know the big answer to the question that Zorro is asking. My personal answer has been that saying ‘no’ all the time and automatically made me feel less human; and I also don’t believe that every dollar given to a homeless person makes that person worse off.”
With reference to the discussion on the previous page, again, notice the focus here. It’s squarely on the giver, and about how giving or not giving makes the giver FEEL. (“…made me feel less human.”)
I certainly think we should all strive to feel more human, whatever that means, but when we involve other people in that endeavor I also think that we are somehow obligated to consider the effects of our behavior on those other people. Of course not every dollar given to a homeless person makes that person worse off, but an awfully high percentage of those dollars do, in my experience WELL over half, and in the situation we are discussing – a stranger on the street – you have no way whatever of determining whether your dollar is a harmful dollar or not.
This discussion has wider implications than our hypothetical homeless guy. Should I send money to an organization which puts itself forward as a charitable organization without having a look at the books? Just because it makes me feel good? Just as there are well motivated individuals and badly motivated individuals, there are good charities and bad ones, and as donors I think we have a responsibility to try to distinguish them.
That doesn’t feel as good as just throwing money around? Well, probably it doesn’t, but unless you think all of this is all about, and only about, you and about how you FEEL, you should probably make the effort anyway.
This confrontation is always soul chilling for me.
In India, we have young children and mother with born babies begging in the streets. They beg as you stand by the road, outside a shop or through the glass windows of the car in a red singal. The actual fact is mostly people ignore, not because they do not wish to be generous but probably because they know every penny given is going to be used by their parents or husband for drugs or alcohol and the children will go hungry anyways. Everyone thinks, its easier not to give money because its going to end up serving the wrong purpose. But is that really the simple solution? Not really, its easier to reason ourselves into saying ‘No’ easily.
So is there really a solution? Yes, there is.
Once a man bought a loaf of fresh bread, a packet of biscuts and some fresh fruits from the shop he was standing outside and handed them over to the Children. They seem really excited for a while but strangely they did not dig into them right away. This man found that to be a really strange behaviour and decided to observe the kids for a while. He pretended to move away from the shop and noticed that they waited for him to leave their sights and sold back the food bought back to the store.
This man was very preplexed! He went back to the store owner and asked him, why did the kids do so? The store owner informed the man that the kid’s father will bring the goods back and sell to his store anyways but this way he avoided the children from being beaten up because they didnt beg for money instead. Ofcourse, the store owner can refuse to take the food but he knows that the father is going to try to sell it somewhere else and if he doesn’t manage to sell them for money, the children will have more beatings from him. He asked the man to forgot about it as its a sad case.
This man, returned the next day to the same store again. He bought the pack of bread, a packet of biscuts and some fresh fruits again. This time, he opened the packet of bread, opened the packet of biscuts and but the fruits. He handed them over to the begging kids with a fiver.
The kids were confused to start with, slowly realized the trick that has been played on them and feasted on them with the biggest smile on their face.
The store owner looked at the happy kids feeding themselves and waved to the man with respect. He said between them, there is still good to be done in this world.
And this great man is my father, the one who taught us to do a favour only if we do not expect anything back from it, otherwise its never a favour. He taught us to be generous and to be kind to everyone.
The main reason I shared this story is because money is not always the means to help everyone. Men like zorro probably mean well but in my view, stopping others from helping the homeless in whatever means possible is not one of them. The answer is probably much simpler, perhaps !