I once heard it said that if a man or woman can’t bring his or herself to give a dollar out of a hundred, then he or she most likely won’t give one out of a hundred million. Unfortunately, a lot of us live by this paradigm of lack. Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that if you give money to a person or cause that you’re going to get a lot more back. But I cannot deny either that there is a process that occurs when we give selflessly that always leaves the giving party instantly better off.
It is not too long ago that I myself couldn’t see the value in contributing my time and money in a selfless way. For all I knew, the homeless person whom I gave my hard-earned dollars might put it to some nefarious use. But one day, the act of giving really hit home hard for me and almost instantaneously.
I was on my way to a restaurant after an early work day. And as I was walking, my mind was slowly humming with all these plans I had made about prospective ideas to pursue and purchases to make. At the same time as I was pondering upon my astronomically massive plans, I was also sporting this sense of frustration at the limitations of the resources at my disposal. And as I continued to walk and ponder, I noticed a middle-aged woman approaching me. She was holding a clear cup in her hand and inside that cup was maybe a couple of pennies and quarters. As she approached, she would occasionally make a plea with the strangers in her path for some small change and some would oblige and others would just move around her.
Finally she got to me and at first I was going to just keep on moving without so much as eye-contact as I had a million times before in similar situations. But something in me told me to stop. I remember looking at the couple of coins in her cup and feeling this tinge of compassion for the fact that she had gotten to a point where her meals and whatever activity she would undertake were purely dependent on the kindness of strangers. At this point in my life, I had been spending a couple of weeks learning not to resist my emotions, but to embrace them instead. So all of the sudden, this feeling of compassion was becoming overwhelming and in a heated moment I took out my wallet looked inside and saw that I had my cards and a total of five dollars cash. I took the five and put it in her cup, saw her eyes widen with amazement and I carried on my way to the restaurant.
In that moment as I walked away, words could not express how trivial my frustrations all of the sudden seemed to me. I was overcome with a sense of profound gratitude for everything and everyone in my life. The fact that I was in good health, with friends and family to share my life with as well the significant means always at my disposal suddenly meant the world to me in a way that it hadn’t before. Every single good and bad thing became something I was grateful to have had the chance to experience in my as yet short life. In brief, I realized in my entire being the overflow of abundance that was in my life.
After this experience, I sought out more opportunities to be selfless and giving. I took out ten bucks in one dollar bills so that the next time I see someone in need I could always have some small change to give. However, I made a conscious decision that I wouldn’t give just to trigger the feelings I experienced in that act of selflessness. Rather, I decided I would only give if I felt inspired—I felt that should be the true nature of giving.
If only I knew what lessons life had in store for me, whoa! See, for days I remained open to the idea of being generous but yet I kept seeing no opportunities that inspired me. But this spirit of giving kept growing in me in a different way. I began to realize that money isn’t the only form of giving. You can give by selflessly listening to another person’s story, showing appreciation and love for others with heartfelt words, and in whatever other forms you are inspired to take action in.
And if the form of inspired giving involves a monetary transaction, you can’t put a cap on it—not if it’s truly inspired. I’m not saying ditch all your material belongings and risk the roof over your head. You still have to be primarily responsible for your wellbeing before you can take that of others upon yourself. You see, one of the realizations I came to is that when you give it doesn’t necessarily have to even be to someone in need. Selfless giving is an act of gratitude and appreciation and as such we can feel gratitude and appreciation for young and old, and poor and rich.
There’s an event that made this understanding perfectly clear to me. I was in a restaurant (I love eating in my restaurants) on a perfectly sunny Sunday afternoon when this couple walked in with three lovely children and they took up seating at the table in front of mine. They all looked happy and were joyfully conversing with one another. I remember at some point telling them how beautiful their family looked and the mother responding with such grace as she thanked me and made a joke about how she had given birth every 4 years.
We were all sitting in a pretty mid-priced restaurant, but definitely a place you would have to have a bit of cash to take your entire family too. So it didn’t seem like it was a unique outing for them or that they were struggling at all. They looked perfectly at ease eating and paying there. But I felt such appreciation for the beauty of family that was on display in front of me that I was inspired to pay for their entire meal which I went ahead and did. And to me this is what inspired giving should be like in action—spontaneous, selfless and non-judgmental of the background of its recipients.
Beyond involving some act of selfness, generosity makes the world a better place. Imagine if we all took it upon ourselves to be more giving in all that we do, be it by listening to another or if you have the means being charitable with money. You know, many times we sit and complain about all these unsolved global issues—poverty, hunger, orphaned children, etcetera. And we see organizations combating them and doing plenty of great work, but not eradicating these problems.
We need to realize that all of these are individual-level problems and that we share not only collective responsibility but an individual burden to lift each other up and act on an individual level in our everyday lives to correct these problems. Once we realize this, then we can truly begin to eliminate the ills plaguing humanity and our planet. And I believe the first step in this begins in living with more open hearts and minds and by being more giving to the people in our lives and with the strangers with whom our paths cross.