Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Step #10 Giving

Step 10 of the 12 Steps for Living Free is Giving. As I contemplated what giving means, I did some research. I found that giving is another of those words that have a multitude of definitions and uses. It’s another single concept that could have an entire book written about it. Perhaps I may tackle that book as a future project. For the immediate purposes of Step #10, I’m going to focus on just a few aspects of giving. Focusing some time, energy and resources on any of these facets of giving will definitively result in a freer and happier life. 

“If you have much, give of your wealth; if you have little, give of your heart.”

That statement is an old Arab proverb. I define it in very simple terms. Everyone can be a giver. The rewards of giving are not reserved for people with financial wealth and material abundance. Unfortunately, some people give for absolutely the wrong reasons. Giving must be done with a pureness of heart and intention. You give because you want to help or bestow some form of joy on another person. You give with no consideration of return or reward.

In my life I have identified three basic kinds of people. The first are givers. The second are takers. The third are receivers. A true giver always gives with no expectation of receiving anything in return. The taker is a person who, knowingly and purposely, takes something from another that was not freely offered and has only the taker’s own fulfillment in mind with little or no consideration for the person who has been exploited. The receiver is a person who is not specifically seeking anything, but humbly accepts whatever it is and is joyful in being the recipient of someone’s generosity. Interestingly, most givers have a difficult time receiving anything from anyone. They are just not prepared to receive.

However, there is an interesting dynamic that appears to be pretty universal when it comes to giving and receiving. A giver can never give more then he or she will ultimately receive. Remember, I said a giver gives freely, from the heart, in conjunction with the mind.  The giver has no conscious intention or desire to receive anything in return, however, he or she has no choice in this matter. Givers will virtually always receive more then they give, tangibly and intangibly. It’s much like the concept of sowing and reaping the harvest. The more you plant and tend to your garden the more it will reward you in the harvest.

There are many examples of giving. In a Christian religious context God gave his only son so that all who accepted this sacrifice or gift will have eternal life. A mother gives birth to a child she carried in her womb with no expectation of repayment or compensation from the child she bore. A father gives his child an education so the child has an opportunity for a successful life. A person hands a homeless person some money or perhaps a coupon for a free meal. None of these individuals gave with the intention of any payback, compensation or reward. Yet, each of them, including God, received fulfillment and joy from freely giving.

Giving requires a pure intention. Because you are fortunate enough to be wealthy, giving money, cars, expensive clothes and other tangible stuff seems like the generous thing to give to a spouse or offspring when all they may have needed and would have preferred to have was some of your time and attention. In this instance, giving expensive stuff may actually resemble a bribe or an attempt to reduce your own guilt for withholding time, attention and love for whatever reason.

Of course, wealth does have its privilege. There are many stories of wealthy individuals who anonymously give gifts of money or resources to individuals who can truly benefit from whatever forms the gift may take. Perhaps it is a deserving young person who could never attend college or a training school of some kind due to a lack of financial resources. Then, out of the kindness and consideration of some individual with substantial wealth, this young person receives a scholarship or grant. Maybe a condition of accepting the gift is that the recipient must perform some kind of service for a community or state or country. Another possibility is that the individual has to pay the grant or scholarship forward to some other deserving individual in the future. This is a gift that keeps giving.

On the flip side of the coin, you may be from an average or a poverty level financial circumstance. You can’t afford to shower the subject of your generosity with anything that costs money. However, you give your time to the individual or knit or make some new clothes for him or her. You give what you can, but you do it from the heart. And, whether you like it or not, you’re going to experience joy, fulfillment, respect and love in return. Again, you’re not demanding, asking or expecting anything. It just happens. It’s a form of universal law similar to the law of nature that states as you sow, so shall you reap. But, your rewards, however they may manifest themselves, often are greater then what you have given, even though you expected nothing.

Giving to Family

Your family is the first and most obvious object of your giving. The amazing thing is that what is most desired by the family members is that which is often withheld for various reasons. Your time, attention, caring and love are the most valuable gifts you can give to your family. It doesn’t matter if they are your children, your parents, your siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins or in-laws. Since time is a priceless commodity, how valuable is the time you give your child reading to him or her? How about playing a simple game of catch or taking your children by the hand and walking through a zoo and teaching them about the animals? How important will he or she feel when you let him or her help while you’re baking cookies? Just giving each of your children some of your time and attention is a gift that is priceless.

Unfortunately, in our current world, where both parents often either must work or choose to have careers, children end up playing second or third fiddle. You don’t mean for it to be that way, but the demands of the job too often supercede the needs of the family. So, you place them in the care of nannies, babysitters, daycare services, after school programs and grandparents to mention a few. You buy them “things” and “stuff” as a way of paying penance or bribing them. Since a child’s personality and most basic set of values are formed during the first seven years of his or her life, what are you teaching them? When they demand attention, they throw a fit, make a scene and you give them what they want – more stuff. Their value system begins to form and they learn that whenever they are not happy or discontent, just get more stuff. This is never the solution. But, the children don’t know any better and they, ultimately, pass this learned behavior and value system to their own spouse and children, and the cycle repeats. Money and what it can buy is used to substitute for the most valuable gifts of all – time, attention and love.

This same concept holds true for siblings, parents, grandparents, adult offspring, aunts, uncles and cousins. I see people and families where they spend massive amounts of time and money seeking expensive gifts that are just right for the intended recipient. But, ultimately, it’s just stuff. And, since the stuff is free to the recipient, they tend to place little value on it. Often we hear stories of children or spouses going into the closets, drawers, attic and so on, of a close family member who has passed away. In those storage places they find years of gifts that were given to the individual that were never worn or used. The gifts may even be tagged with the name of the person who gave the gift along with the date and occasion it was received. Ultimately, it was just so much more stuff. The major beneficiaries of the gifts were the manufacturers, supply chain and the retailers.

Telephone calls, short visits, window shopping, going to a ball game, taking a ride to a favorite picnic location, a personal note, a gift of photographs of an event you shared together, a favorite homemade food dish and so many other simple things that mostly take a little precious time and show your love and attention are all the kinds of things you can give and make someone feel loved and important. And, here’s the best part. You’re going to enjoy doing whatever it is and when you receive a big smile, a hug, perhaps a few tears or whatever other responses will express the recipient’s pleasure, you’re going to gain more happiness and joy then you can imagine. The best part is that you never tire or get used to those feelings of happiness and joy.

The most valuable gift anyone can receive is self-esteem. In our current society I see parents and grandparents who, unknowingly, are undermining the newer generation’s self-esteem. While we are human beings and live, supposedly, civilized lives in societies we have created, at our most basic core, by nature, we are part of the animal kingdom. There is a natural course that nature prescribes. One generation creates the next generation. The older generation ages and passes away. The next generation must now take the responsibility to create the next generation and like the prior generation they will age and pass away. This cycle has repeated itself since animal life appeared on this planet.

However, due to science, medical advances and technology, it’s not unusual to see four or even five generations alive. Remarkable! But, there seems to be a trend towards continuing to keep second and even third generations in the nest. Parents are still supporting 30 and 40 something offspring (and often their grandkids) who haven’t figured out how to fly on their own, yet. In the natural scheme of things, you are not helping these younger generations to become stronger. In fact, it ultimately undermines their self-esteem, their self-worth and their ability to survive in a difficult and unfair world. You can’t make this world any easier for them. By carrying their burden you are weakening them and reducing their natural survival instinct and abilities.

You simply need to look at your own life at age 18, 20, 24 and realize that you were on your own. Life was tough. It wasn’t a bed of roses. You learned that life wasn’t fair and you had to carry your own weight. You learned to survive and are proud of that fact. But, by “supposedly” making life easier for your offspring, you actually deprive them of a vitally important necessity of life . . . the natural ability to survive. Survival requires an ability to deal with adversity, think critically and apply creativity. Yes! They need your support. But, they need moral support not fiscal support.

By the time they are young adults you should have taught them the basic necessities of independence, responsibility, accountability and survival. Now, just like you, they need to jump out of the nest, flap their wings and fly. If they fall or fly into a wall, they need to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and try all over again (and yes, those words are part of the lyrics from an old song). The longer you are their financial support, the harder it is for them to make the break. Eventually, this is going to potentially place you in financial hardship when you need it most. You’re also going to begin developing a degree of resentment, perhaps, subtle and underlying, but you’re going to want your own life, after all, you EARNED it. To see exactly how we have weakened our society you simply need to look at the welfare programs and the massive number of entitled people who are exploiting them. We have created a society of “takers.” Give the gift of self-esteem and self-worth. Enough said.

The happiest families I have witnessed are those who learned from the earliest age not to give or expect “stuff” (although they all did give and receive some, in appropriate proportion), but to give and expect time, attention and love. I see these families gather from far and wide and have more fun, more laughter and more fulfilling times together then any other families. Oh, and it doesn’t matter where the family is on the financial curve. Time, attention and love are priceless and everyone can both give and receive them.

Giving to Friends

Friends are a gift in themselves. As soon as we are old enough to meet the little boy or girl next door, we begin developing and nurturing friendships. Friends, often become our family, especially in instances where the dysfunction in family relationships, unfortunately, drives family members away from each other. While it may be true that family members may share the same blood and gene pool, there is no way to know what specific combination of genes each member of the family will have. Thus, three children born of the same parents may look amazingly alike; yet have very different predispositions, abilities, talents, intelligence and so on. Likewise, all the siblings may look decidedly different from one another yet have very similar predispositions. And, of course, they may all look very different and have totally different predispositions. And all, some or none of them may be anything like their parents. This is an ongoing area of study.

Be that as it may, we have no control over these matters, though there are those who continue to think by breeding a perfect mother with a perfect father a perfect child should be the result. Here is where an old saying still and will always apply. “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” And, it means exactly what it says. You may not like your parents or your siblings or both for that matter. But, you don’t have any choice in the matter and that pretty much is true for adoptive family situations. Friends on the other hand are a different story. You don’t choose to be friends with people you don’t like or don’t want to be around. You choose friends because they are complementary. You are drawn together because each of you provides something in the relationship that makes each friend more and better because of the connection. You develop levels of trust that you may not have with your own family members. Developing these friendships is a trial and error process. From your earliest age you’ll create friends and then you’ll grow in different directions and you’ll create new friends. By the way, there is also the great possibility that you’ll create lifelong friendships with your siblings and your parents, which, of course, is much to be desired.

It is said that some people will come into your life for a specific reason, while others will remain with you for a season and finally, others will be with you for a lifetime. I might dare to say that there will be more who will be with you for a specific reason and then be gone. A lesser number will be with you for a season. The smallest number will be those who come into your life for a lifetime. First, each of these people who come into your life are a gift. Each of you will leave the other with some kind of gift. And the lifetime friends will continue gifting one another for their entire lifetime.

What kind of gifts do you give to friends? Of course, there are the tangible gifts. But, again, this is just so much stuff and its true value is more about the thought and feelings that caused the gift to be given then the tangible item itself. The real gifts between friends are the same as I mentioned earlier; time, attention, support, caring and love. How often has a friend been there just to listen when you needed someone to listen? How often has a friend been there lending moral support when you’ve been going through a rough patch in life. How often has a friend been there when you’ve enjoyed a trip somewhere and wanted someone to travel with you. The list goes on and on. And, of course, you have been that friend giving to your friends on the same level. Perhaps you may agree with me based on your own experiences in life, but my wealth is not measured in dollars and cents, it’s measured in my friendships. Friends who “give” to one another are true friends. Friends who “take” from you are not your friends, though they may deceive you into thinking you need them, but you don’t. They are leeches. They will use you until you either can no longer supply them with what they want, you deny them or a better “host” appears on the scene.

Giving to Community

First, let’s define community since this can be interpreted on a very broad base. Community, by my definition is the country, state, county, city, town, village or neighborhood you live in. It is one or more organizations and institutions within any of these jurisdictions that provide uplifting to the jurisdiction at large or any segment of it. It can be a homeless individual. It can be a family that has lost its primary income source. It can be an animal or nature conservancy. You can make this list as long as you desire. I would suggest, however, that with living free mentality, it probably wouldn’t necessarily be large, high profile charitable organizations.

Giving to community should be something you feel at your very core. I stated before, givers don’t give with expectations of anything in return. However, while the work of large, charitable organizations, religious organizations and other similar organizations does benefit society in general, these organizations involve a lot of bureaucracy and have very significant operating expenses and much of the money and resources that go to them is used to feed the bureaucracy and defray the operating expenses. When you have chosen to live free you are typically avoiding these kinds of involvements and organizations. There is something very special about knowing in your heart that something you did today is going to put a pair of shoes on a specific child or know that a specific person will get to their chemotherapy appointment today or people you know (not necessarily by name or acquaintance) will laugh or cry tonight at a theatrical performance or musical event and the list goes on.

Giving to community doesn’t mean giving money, either. My most valuable, actually, priceless, commodity is my time. Perhaps you consider your time priceless, too. So, most of the time, I feel that if I can “tithe” my time, I’m giving something that is worth far more then some pieces of paper with some colored ink on them. But, there are plenty of others who will gladly give colored pieces of paper so they don’t have to commit their time. So, if that’s what works for them, so be it. I’ll provide time.

I’m also a strong believer in “paying it forward.” There was a movie a number of years ago titled Pay It Forward that exemplified this concept. While the movie, starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and others didn’t receive glowing reviews; it does plant the seeds of an idea. Another movie made for TV was produced from a true story of a young boy in the Philadelphia suburbs who found a way of receiving donations of blankets (that was the main item I remember) and going to the inner city every weekend with his parents to pass out the blankets to homeless people during the cold winter months. I only mention these two movies to suggest the kinds of things one can consider when giving to his or her community. Certainly, your knowledge of your own area and your creativity can generate many ideas like these.

The bottom line is that giving to your community, however large or small you define it, is another way to gain the joy and happiness of giving without expectation of return.

What About The Taker?

There will always be takers in this world. I only admonish you to beware. Takers will use any disguise they need to use to take what they want from whomever they choose. Learn to recognize takers. It’s actually pretty easy. Anytime you find yourself in a relationship with someone and you don’t feel that you’re gaining anything positive or you find that you’re the only one contributing, then it’s a pretty sure bet you’re being exploited by a taker. Takers don’t necessarily take money or resources. They can also drain you intellectually and emotionally.

DO NOT be concerned about hurting the taker’s feelings. That’s a ploy they use very effectively and it’s called “guilt.” Believe me, the only feelings you’re going to hurt are those of your true friends who watch you being taken down the primrose path. That taker will find a new host before you’ve had a chance to even think about what just transpired. And here’s another tip. Don’t be surprised at who may be a taker. They are often much closer then you’d imagine. The result of this kind of relationship is that they gain what they want and you’re left drained. 

Who Are Receivers?

Receivers are another kind of person entirely. Receivers are those who do not exploit anyone for anything. However, they do know how to graciously receive gifts when they are offered. These people may be those who are down on their luck and truly appreciate when someone gives them something that will make the receiver’s life better. But, a receiver may also be someone who is very well to do financially, intellectually and emotionally. When someone finds a way to give something beneficial to a receiver who is fortunate enough to have some prosperity, the receiver will be just as gracious, humble and appreciative as a hungry homeless person. Receivers are the people you want to be giving to. Most often, they will have a need that you are able to help them with, even the prosperous receivers. And, whether your giving is anonymous or not, you’ll know that your effort will be appreciated. 

Here’s the interesting circumstance I mentioned earlier. Givers usually have a very difficult time receiving. Givers are so accustomed to giving and not expecting anything that when someone gifts the giver, he or she doesn’t know how to accept it. 

You, as a giver, need to be a grateful and gracious receiver. 

There is an art to receiving. As a giver, at various times during your lifetime, you will be recognized for your generosity. You will be given awards. You may receive various kinds of gifts in appreciation of all that you have done in giving to others to make their lives better. These gifts are given to you from the hearts of those who are recognizing you. You should not feel any guilt or embarrassment. 

Remember, I said that no matter how much you give, you would always receive more in return then you can imagine. Most of what you’ll receive will be in the form of personal joy, happiness, fulfillment and peace of mind. However, people will recognize your contributions and want to give you these tokens of appreciation for your selflessness. 

Also, there may come a time in your own life, after giving freely and lovingly to others where you may find yourself in a position of needing something. Other givers will want to be there for you. Learn how to humbly and graciously accept the gifts and be truly appreciative. You deserve it. 

Being a true giver, learning to graciously receive from other givers and avoiding the takers and being taken for granted will result in rewards you can’t imagine. But, the main reward will be the freedom, happiness, well-being and contentment you’ll ultimately enjoy.

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