I received a renewal mailing from one of my favorite advocacy organizations yesterday. I won’t mention which non-profit it is, because that isn’t the point. It’s just that the piece of mail caused me to reflect on the nature of giving.
Many charities and non-profit organizations offer prizes and merchandise as inducements to attract benefactors. There are different levels of support that include more valuable stuff.
An “entry level” contribution of $25 might be a bumper sticker. $50 might garner you a tee-shirt, and $100 results in a duffel bag emblazoned with the charity’s logo. As the levels of contributions increase much higher, there could be special banquets and awards ceremonies that laud the generosity of the highest benefactors. Other charities engage in guilt-tripping or shaming as ways to promote giving. They hope we will contribute so as to feel good about ourselves.
I’m referring to legitimate charities and non-profit groups who do good work and fulfill badly needed societal deficits. To help people avoid blindness or to feed the hungry are fine humanitarian works. It seems tragic that such groups must resort to “bribery” in order to raise badly needed funds.
Thankfully, many groups’ forms include the option to forgo rewards so that all of the givers’ contributions go towards the alleviation of suffering. Yet, there is something unsettling about giving to others when we expect rewards.
I fondly remember a great-aunt who secretly gave me cash and food at a time when I was in dire straits. I struggled to buy the most basic necessities. When this great-aunt pushed the currency into my hand, she warned me to never reveal her identity to anyone. She gifted me things because she saw my suffering, not because she believed in good Karma or bragging rights. She understood that I was struggling through a very harsh period of life. The great-aunt acted out of pure motivation.
The perfection of giving selflessly is mentioned in the writings of most wisdom traditions. Such giving can be regarded as a character strength or an honest virtue.
“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”–Lao Tzu
When we remember that humans are social animals we begin to understand why giving is one of the basic ingredients in forming strong social groups and cultures. Long ago, people realized the necessity of cooperation and the value of sharing among one another. As the act of giving becomes more profound, the spiritual capacity of the benefactor expands.
It’s helpful to know that giving automatically involves receiving. Giving and receiving coexist in that one act cannot exist without the other. In the end, we do ourselves no favor by categorizing ourselves as people who give and people who receive. Therefore, it is unwise to reject a freely offered gift. We don’t always have to give and not take.
When we understand that giving and receiving are interdependent we give without expectations of rewards from the receiver–not even thanks. When generosity appears without ego-boosting, suffering is alleviated. We are generous and others are generous to us. This realization is the basis of gratitude.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes 17th century dramatist, Pierre Corneille. “The manner of giving is worth more than the gift.”