We receive a lot from life, while giving something depends on oneself. Generosity can be an antidote to narrow-mindedness or poverty.
Giving can mean emptying or filling. If someone thinks that others value him for what he has – material goods, professional prestige or financial resources – giving can be a risk, a kind of zero-sum game in which offering means having less and being worse off. But what happens if a little wonder is hidden in the gift, a hidden secret? What happens if receiving is already implicit in offering?
The fact that a large number of people today join solidarity organizations and have become professional givers, or the secular insistence of spiritual traditions on generosity and charity has to do with discovering a different type of wealth than usual.
The Dalai Lama once ironically explained that there are two types of egoists in the world: the wise and the foolish. He claims to be an egotist who has discovered satisfaction in generosity.
Many Eastern traditions have reached a similar conclusion. In the last poem of the Tao Te Ching, we read:
DO YOU HAVE THE ACTION OF GIVING A DEFERRED REWARD?
The concept of karma in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions pivots on that same axis.
The seemingly magical idea that the universe returns good deeds that are performed acquires an earthlier interpretation if the reward is considered to be implicit in the very act of offering. The border between the one who gives and the one who receives is blurred and enjoyment is a two-way street.
However, not all speeches are so favorable to generosity. On many occasions it is considered something forced and unnatural, and it is only understood as an obligation, a sacrifice on the altar of the common good or, in the best of cases, a kind of barter to win a piece of paradise. A capital of good actions.
There is a classic variant of yoga, karma yoga, which does not consist of performing the characteristic exercises and postures or meditating. Practice in this case involves not paying attention to the results of the altruistic actions that are undertaken. Any activity is carried out as an end in itself.
In this way it is essential not to receive anything in exchange for what is done and offered to others. No thanks or benefits of any kind are sought. The path of giving is considered to be one-way and the fewer rewards received the higher the practice.
THE SELFISH GENE AND THE GENEROUS ONE
The idea that man is a selfish being by nature is deeply rooted in Western culture and is a pillar that supports many theories in economics, politics or sociology.
Influenced by Darwin, many authors argue that natural selection has favored that only the fittest and most egotistical individuals survive, since it is assumed that they were the most concerned about their well-being and staying alive.
But these theses do not explain the altruism that occurs in human beings and in some animals.
Alternative and consistent interpretations with Darwin maintain that solidarity could facilitate survival: a group had a better chance of staying alive if individuals helped each other than if each one cared only for himself.
From a purely biological point of view this could explain the survival of a kind of “generous gene” – as opposed to the famous “selfish gene” of which Richard Dawkins spoke – that has overcome the vicissitudes of competition and selection between species.
The consequence of this idea would be that human beings have both the generous and the selfish seeds within them, and it is their responsibility to decide which trend they want to explore and strengthen, as well as to observe what happens in each case.
GENEROSITY AS A PRACTICE OF INNER OPENNESS
One of the explanations of why giving can be experienced as something satisfying is that offering something to others produces an opening, a relaxation of habitual defenses, the fear of not having and the need to treasure, which favors a relaxed and receptive attitude.
On a daily basis, it is easy to meet people who know how to smile at life: the market grocer who jokes with customers, the teacher who is passionate about teaching his students, the stroller who stops to help a clueless tourist. People who connect with others and to whom, in some way, life and people respond to them.
And the same is true in reverse: a greedy attitude of fear and search for security produces a psychological block and deepens the feeling of never having enough.
There are people who carry throughout their lives a feeling of scarcity and lack of fullness that is independent of the zeros that their checking account may have.
Those who exercise generosity are somehow rewarded, not because there is an invisible hand keeping track of good deeds, but because the relaxed attitude of letting go allows them to enjoy the richness of life and savor the fruits that tend to remain hidden for those who he keeps his fist closed.
THE POWER OF THE OFFERING
The greedy or generous tendency is not limited to the economic field. Sometimes the gift that a person offers takes the form of a smile to a stranger in the subway, advice to a friend who needs it, or the attention of parents who know how to accompany their children at the beginning of their life and also let go your hand when they start their own way.
Each day that unfolds offers a multitude of excuses to cultivate this quality, which in most cultures is celebrated through rituals.
Offering to the gods in the form of food or drink, incense on altars, and even actions such as prostration or prayer, can be understood as training, gymnastics to keep the heart open, and a reminder of the importance of having an open attitude towards others.
GENEROSITY IN THE MATURE PERSONALITY
Outside the religious sphere, the gift fulfills a function similar to that of the offering. On birthdays, holidays, or in the life of a couple, it represents a tribute with high symbolic content. Giving is the way in which one person tells another that they consider them, that they have dedicated their attention and time, or that they love them.
Although the belief that it is more satisfying to receive love than to give it predominates, some psychologists question this claim.
In his now classic work The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm argues that although many people worry about receiving love and their concern consists in not feeling loved enough, a mature personality feels better when it has the opportunity to love.
Feeling the affection of another may be pleasant, but the one providing it is experiencing it in a creative way. You are projecting the stream of love as a vital expression of yourself. A mother who cares for and cares for her newborn feels intense gratification for the love she offers.
In the same way, the person who goes to help countless strangers who suffer in a distant place turns love, an emotion, into something concrete. His work is the vehicle in which his heart travels and he has discovered in helping others a form of fulfillment.
WORK AS A PATH TO GENEROSITY
The fruit of a couple’s love – children – questions and blurs the border that separates giving and receiving. Parents get something but they also offer it.
They create a life and deliver a mixture of affection and discipline so that the child learns to function in the world. Although it is true that they do not do it in a totally disinterested way, they act responding to a deep inner call that inseparably mixes generosity and self-interest.
In adolescence and the beginning of adult life, this paradoxical amalgam becomes tense and can lead to conflicts, and it is that sometimes children, while looking for their own path, do not distinguish whether their parents act out of love or selfishness.
Work is also another area where giving can be a way to experience oneself in a creative way. Although it is often seen as the materialization of biblical punishment, work can be a space to create and contribute something to the community.
This is easy to observe, for example in the field of art, where authors express themselves through songs, novels and works that they offer to the public. But it can also be applied to any profession that favors the welfare of human beings, including the humblest.
Someone can express himself by writing an opera and another by cutting a client’s hair. People’s inclinations and passions are communicated in multiple ways.
If professional work allows you to be in contact with those you help it can become even more rewarding. Working supporting people who need it favors the development of empathy, the ability to feel with others.
When someone is related to people who suffer, they can perceive their own problems with more relativity or equanimity. By also helping to improve the lives of others, you can develop the ability to enjoy the good fortune of others.
THE ACT OF GIVING IS A MILLENARY WARP
Many people live with the feeling of loneliness, of feeling isolated individuals who only feel good when they take actions that benefit themselves.
Connecting with the ability to rejoice in the good of others can help increase the bond with other people and reduce the feeling of loneliness, while offering many more opportunities to be happy.
We all receive the fruit of the work of others. The food, the housing, the energy we consume, but also the advances that we enjoy rest on contributions from people who have offered knowledge, inventions and creations, which have been added to those of previous generations.
The cure of serious diseases or the possibility of crossing the ocean and in a few hours visiting relatives who live thousands of kilometers are supported by the efforts of many people who were adding steps to the ladder, in a kind of summation of offerings.
GRATITUDE TO THE UNIVERSE
Sometimes the insistence on having and hoarding can be a blindfold that does not allow you to see everything that is received each day.
Having a cup of coffee in a bar is only possible thanks to the waiter who serves it, the operator who made the cup and the farmers who grew the beans. Behind the objects that facilitate our lives is the work of a wide network of anonymous individuals.
An awareness of the gifts we receive each day and the people who make them possible can feed a sense of fulfillment and gratitude.
FOUR FIELDS IN WHICH TO APPLY GENEROSITY
Giving is a human faculty and we all know how to do it, although sometimes it is convenient to grease that mechanism.
- I deal with strangers. The countless other anonymous names present a great opportunity to practice giving. Being strangers, generosity is prevented from hiding a more or less conscious attempt to get something in return. The smile is the simplest and least expensive way to offer something. You can start with something this small and little by little, when you feel the benefits, move forward on the path of the offering.
- Work. Professing originally meant exercising a science, an art or a trade feeling affection and interest in it. Profession can be turned into a vocation and not an obligation. That may imply a shift towards a job more in line with what you want to offer the world. Or carry out small transformations that make daily work more satisfactory on a personal level and more useful for others.
- Family and friends. Attention is something that nourishes and that children demand at every moment because it is necessary for their development. Sometimes parents are not able to offer care and give that responsibility to the screens. The practice of offering time to children, a partner or friends can be transformative and improve personal relationships.
- Volunteering. Doing something for free for someone who needs it can be very satisfying. The reward is located in the same performance and allows you to see how to achieve the well-being of others you can live as you achieve your own.