There’s no denying that life in the twenty-first century is demanding. There never seems to be enough time to do all the things that need to be done: keep up with work or studies, spend time with family, earn enough money to pay the rent and buy necessities. With so many challenges to cope with, you may ask yourself, “Why should I expend any effort in giving?” or “I’m already scrambling to deal with all the demands and pressures on me. How will I find time and resources to give more?” or “No one gives to me, so why should I give to others?”
In this chapter we hope to show you that no matter what your circumstances in life, you have the ability to give. As well, giving is good for you. It provides the following benefits:
- It can make a positive difference to others.
- There are emotional, physical, and even financial benefits to you.
- It can help you achieve your full potential.
- It can bring you more meaning, fulfillment, and happiness.
Gifts Were Given to You
Probably the biggest gift you will ever receive is the huge investment your parents made in you. But they are not the only ones who have given to you. During the course of your life you have received many things from other people—teachers, relatives, strangers. Schools and hospitals were built with the hard work and tax dollars of those who preceded you.
In fact, almost everything you use in your life has been made by someone else. The peace that you enjoy has been delivered by the sacrifice of others. When you think about it, you know countless people who have made a difference in your life – some negative, some positive. Why not make a decision to have a positive impact on the lives of others, even if they are strangers?
Consider the following statistics:
- One out of every four people in the world is starving.
- As many as 1.5 billion people in the world do not have enough clean water.
- At least 20 million people are suffering the horror of war, imprisonment, and torture.
- Every few seconds a child dies from a preventable disease.
- One-seventh of the world’s population is illiterate.
- In the United States, the world’s richest country, 3 million people are homeless each year.
There are also great needs within your own community. In the face of such need and desperation, you have two choices: you can decide to help others and change lives, or you can decide to do nothing and lose the benefits of giving. But remember, when people come together to tackle a difficult situation, they receive far more than they can ever imagine.
The Benefits of Giving
What are those benefits of giving? Here are some of the things you can gain by making giving a greater part of your life:
- new relationships
- a feeling of security
- good health
- a sense of empowerment, pride, and accomplishment
- peace and love
The paradox is that when you give expecting a reward, you won’t receive one. When you give with joy, selflessness, and love, you benefit greatly. The attitude you bring to your giving will reflect the benefits you gain. Parents share their shelter, food, and love with their children simply because they love them and not because they seek their love.
Ultimately, the rewards are tremendous. Yet if you give money, time, or anything else with an expectation of a return on your investment, you defeat the purpose of giving. This can be a negative lesson: you gave and you didn’t feel any better. This lack of “emotional reward” can lead to not wanting to give. Then you lose, as do those you could be helping.
Psychologists who study babies know that they (like all human beings) crave interaction with other humans. In fact, babies who are not nurtured by their parents or other caregivers wither emotionally from lack of bonding. Many of them never recover.
We believe that this is also true of adults. If adults lack stimulating interaction with others, their souls shrink. Really, it’s only through connecting with other human beings that you learn about the world, about yourself, and even about your destiny. After all, other people are a mirror in which you can see yourself. This interconnection enables you to reach your full potential and to strengthen your soul.
The Trappist monk Thomas Merton once wrote: “Souls are like athletes who need opponents worthy of them if they are to be tried and extended and pushed to the full use of their powers.” That’s an insightful analogy, for just as your muscles weaken without physical exercise, so does your soul weaken without its special kinds of exercise. A great exercise for your soul is the practice of giving. As with physical exercise, the more you do it, the easier it is, and the stronger you will become.
Reduction of Fears
Giving can also reduce your fears. That’s because giving promotes social connections, which provide you with greater security.
Do you live in fear of economic disaster? Do you worry about caring for your parents or putting your children through college? Do you worry about losing your good health? Do you fear that crime, war, or terrorist attacks will disrupt the economy and your security? These are legitimate concerns that many people share. We live in difficult and uncertain times, but are these fears real?
Research shows that people who watch a lot of news on television overestimate the threats to their well-being. Why? Because television focuses on news that makes the world seem like a more dangerous place than it actually is. Afraid of the world that is portrayed on TV, people “cocoon,” staying in their homes with close family, and do not build bonds with their neighbors. Thus, they become more vulnerable.
The best way to confront your fears is to begin the process of making a difference. The root causes of “dangers” are often the result of social problems that have been ignored. But you can make a commitment to do what you can to eliminate the conditions that cause the potential crises. By facing your fears and working to change their root causes, you overcome them.
Giving is a key part of this process because giving reduces self-centeredness. It can make you feel more connected to others, and this connection will reduce fear and isolation. Author Robert Putnam’s massive research project, which culminated in the book Bowling Alone, clearly demonstrates the benefits to staying connected with others – for security, health, happiness, and even income.
Have you ever heard of a job opportunity through a personal connection? Have you ever had neighbors help you out during a difficult situation? Has a friend ever cared for your child when you were exhausted?
These are just a few of the benefits that occur when you are connected with other people. The list is endless.
Academic research demonstrates that giving to others benefits people physically and emotionally. An article in the May 1988 issue of American Health magazine described a study in Michigan that showed that regular volunteer work increases life expectancy. The study found that men who did no volunteer work were two and a half times more likely to die during the study than men who volunteered at least once a week. The article described other benefits that the researchers measured.
Giving, in the form of volunteer work:
- enhances your immune system,
- lowers cholesterol levels,
- strengthens your heart,
- decreases the incidence of chest pains, and
- generally reduces stress.
The world can be a different and better place if, while you are here, you give of yourself. This concept became clear to Azim one day when he was watching television at an airport terminal while waiting for a flight. A priest was sharing a story about newborn twins, one of whom was ill. The twins were in separate incubators, as per hospital rules.
A nurse on the floor repeatedly suggested that the twins be kept together in one incubator. The doctors finally agreed to try this. When the twins were brought into contact with each other, the healthy twin immediately put his arms around his sick brother. This instinctive exchange gradually helped the sick twin to recover and regain his health. The babies’ family and the doctors witnessed the intangible force of love and the incredible power of giving.
Living to Your Potential
Rumi, a thirteenth-century Persian mystic, told of a man who walked past a beggar and asked, “Why, God, do you not do something for these people?” God replied, “I did do something. I made you.”
When Rumi wrote these words, he was addressing our ability to choose what we do, our ability to reach our potential.
Most people use only a tiny portion of their potential, and many never find their true gift or calling in life. They never find a worthwhile cause to support, a cause that really means something to them and makes a difference in their lives.
But when you give to others or give of yourself to meaningful causes, things change. You expect more of yourself. You discover new feelings of self-worth. Indeed, you begin to tap into your true gifts and talents. And when you do that, you can achieve your full potential as you help yourself and others.
Until 1997 Azim was a professional accountant. In 199 he also became head of his community’s social welfare board, where he volunteered twenty to twenty-five hours a week. This work led to an invitation to develop a budget for Focus, a humanitarian agency. He accepted the invitation and went to spend several weeks with Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
While in Pakistan, Azim saw many things that shook his soul. One instance, in particular, was his visit to an Afghan refugee camp, where he heard stories about how the refugees lived through war after war. Fleeing from Afghanistan with only the clothes they wore, a few of them had even seen their fathers being killed in front of their eyes.
Some worked fourteen hours a day, making only a dollar a day. Azim met Afghan children who were the same age as his own children. It made him think, “What if my children were in this predicament?” He had heard the statement that we are all interconnected, but for the first time he actually felt what this statement meant. As he was riding back to his hotel in a cab, he sobbed like a baby.
That night he could not sleep. He tossed and turned, asking himself how he could really help these people. Finally, he realized that he would not be able to make a big impact as a professional accountant because he was not passionate about accounting. In this night of grief and pain, he made a decision to pursue his gift of inspirational speaking and writing. That day in the Afghan refugee camp was a life-altering experience for Azim.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “To find yourself, lose yourself in the service of others.” Azim believes that by losing himself in his voluntary work during that trip, he found himself and got closer to achieving his full potential.
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