Everyone would like to do more and give more, at least in intent.
But reality sets in rather quickly. Often most, our resources are too scarce to share them with others.
We know or at least we sense that giving is the right thing to do. But when we see an opportunity to give or to help, there is that pinch that stops us right off the bat. We look away, find ourselves busy with more urgent matters, or make judgmental calls, saying that they don't deserve it.
By the way, if you want to better understand what is going on when all that thinking happens in your head, read How to make better use of your brain
We are better than that! But how to overcome that pinch safely?
Kindness, benevolence, or altruism are the virtues that make life worth living. They are among the basis of being human. Giving is better than receiving. It opens the doors to greater feelings, to greater fulfillment.
Practicing generosity is an element of your Connection Practice
And generosity is a lot easier to dispense than it may seem.
Why is it so hard to give even worthless little things?
Say you gave up your seat on the bus for someone you thought would need it. The person takes the seat and never acknowledges you. Not a thank you, not a glance, nothing. Just took your seat, period.
What would be your reaction? Would you be annoyed? Would you say something? Or just mutter in your mouth about it for some time? Or would you just go on with your day?
There are many reasons people could take the seat you generously gave up without thanking you.
They are not necessarily entitled brats who felt they deserved your seat, although that is also a possibility.
- Maybe they don't speak your language well
- or they are embarrassed to be in a needy situation
- or they didn't even see your gesture, just saw a seat for the taking
- Or they can be feeling very sick and have zero energy for civilities
But it doesn't matter.
Giving is giving. There is no return of investment in giving. What you gave is lost to you. If you expected even a mere thank-you, this is different from giving. It is an exchange. It becomes a transaction. It could be called selling, renting, or bartering.
Charity and philanthropism have a certain nobility in them that makes them attractive but genuine self-sacrifice and disinterested action are different. The nobility comes from the absence of return.
If you had any expectations from your gesture, you simply tried to feel good about yourself. This what do-gooders do.
In the giving-your-seat example, If you rant bitterly about people's rudeness, your mind is in the wrong place.
Even if you rummaged through one of the above explanations why your generous action was ignored, your mind is in a better place but not there yet.
True peace will come when you just give up your seat and move on with your life. What comes after your gesture is out of your control and should not be your concern.
Generosity consists not the sum given, but the manner in which it is bestowed
So why do we make so much fuss about giving something?
The previous example brings up the major block to generosity:
The Fear of Loss
As demonstrated above, giving is about giving up. A true gift is a loss to you. The hard part is to be OK with that loss.
One way to deal with it is to have so much of something that giving some will not affect your own wealth.
How much money is enough money?
Just a little bit more.
John D. Rockefeller
Whether JDR said that is debatable but it says it all: “enough” is an attitude, not a number.
Another way is to give something someone else owns.
It's easy to be generous with company money for instance.
But even some very wealthy people have sometimes a hard time to part away with things. The problem is not related to quantity owned but to the feeling of loss.
Loss aversion is a human trait well known to psychologists et salespeople alike. Risking a loss is felt like a more urgent matter than the possibility of a gain. Daniel Kahneman has published extensive work on this topic.
And rightly so.
Individuals who stayed safe survived at a higher rate than the others. Those who took too much risk were eliminated from the gene pool.
Fear is a wonderful mind function that led to the survival of many species. Better safe than sorry...
Napoleon Hill, in his famous “Think and Grow Rich” identifies six basic fears and he listed the Fear of Poverty as number one (second is Fear of Criticism and Fear of Death is only last)
Brendon Burchard, in the “Motivation Manifesto” describes two main fears:
- Fear of Harm
- Fear of Loss
As much fear is useful to survival, finding courage, and facing fear also leads to a higher survival rate. Both Hills and Burchard recommend doing the work to conquer fear.
How to conquer the Fear of Loss
Like all skills, it gets easier with practice over time.
Start with awareness
In the beginning, when an opportunity to give, or to simply be kind, will arise, a pinch in the guts will stop you. Be receptive to that pinch. Listen to it. Digest it. What does it say? What danger does it want to prevent?
Cultivate that awareness.
Sure you will let many old ladies deal with heavy doors and keep going your way to the important stuff you are late for, but now on you will know about it.
Then analyze that danger you prevented to happen to you. How long would have been the setback? 30 seconds? How bad would it be to be late 5 minutes instead of 4 and a half? Were you actually late or that was the lame excuse you came up with to avoid looking at a stranger in the eyes?
This mental work will take several shoppers with a single item waiting for your truckload of groceries to go through the cashier. But your awareness will sharpen.
Your awareness will start to become uncomfortable. A counter pinch will fight for attention with your initial selfish pinch.
This mental struggle will cost another number of pregnant women to commute standing while you rest from your day. But the inner workings are building up your resolve.
Most likely, it will take you by surprise.
You will find yourself holding a door. Your arm sprang for that handle without your say-so. Your entire being will feel light and serene. Of course, that instant of peace will cost you your place in the line but you are now on the other side.
Do it again. When entering somewhere, check over your shoulder how that door is serving the next person. Doing just that is already giving. And when appropriate, stop and hold it.
Let it become a habit. Look sincerely at your actual loss. You will realize how petty your initial fear was until it fades into oblivion. With regular practice, you being nice and kind will be as natural as breathing. You will barely notice it. But (most) people will.
Extend that awareness to everything. Are you really afraid to go broke giving a buck to that guy who played your favorite song in the street and made you feel great? If so, smile at him and thank him. That's a start.
Being the recipient of gifts
There is an aspect of generosity that is often overlooked, and that is being the recipient of it. Most people can make peace with giving but remain very uncomfortable with receiving.
What receiving has to do with generosity?
You can easily answer that question by recalling your disappointment with someone's attitude when you gave them something you thought would have delighted them. What's wrong with them? You just granted them their wildest wish and they borderline refused it.
- “Oh, that's' too much...”
- “You shouldn't have...”
were the replies.
Indeed, that was “too much”, read: more than they could handle, “you shouldn't have” referred to pushing them out of their comfort zone. They basically ignored your intention and were solely concerned with their own issues. This is a very selfish attitude.
Being the receiver can be, in fact, harder than being the giver.
- The recipient may fear to be indebted to the giver, as the expressions “I am much obliged” testifies to (“Obrigado” in Portuguese or “Votre obligé“ in French).
- The recipient may fear to have been revealed, as someone read their inner desires, making them feel vulnerable and defensive.
- The recipient may feel looked down on as a person in need or feel that giver is trying to assert a superior position.
As you can see, it takes a lot of confidence and a fair amount of trust to receive a gift without second thoughts.
My late father admitted he would have never offer something he personally liked, by fear of being seen. He was a sad man who kept his feelings hidden to his last day.
To receive well is first and foremost an act of generosity. Be kind to the giver. Appreciate the effort. To accept their gift is to accept them as they show themselves. They too reveal themselves in their gift. Appreciate the trust they place in you. There is a form of nakedness in both giving and receiving. Both are exposed.
To be a good teacher one must be a good student.
Similarly, to be a good giver, one must be a good receiver.
Practice every day