I am a fortunate human being. In spite of some legendary stupidity - and usual vagaries of life (and death) - I find myself a 57-year-old alive and well (enough) during a time of a global pandemic, amidst an era of unprecedented societal demands for change, all the while dealing with the creeping impacts of a planetary climate emergency. How lucky am I to be able to write these words while safely hunkered down, with a roof over my head and with no rumblings in my stomach? And I am heartened to note that my loved ones are in the same general boat, floating and waiting but in the big picture unsubmerged by the rising tides of uncertainty.
Many – far too many – other people are not so fortunate. And another dimension of my appreciation and gratitude is founded on the knowledge that there’s too much pain and hurt in our world today. There’s too much suffering, too much lack, too much anger and hate. And too little of all the things that we can use to counteract those slings-and-arrows. But I can do something about it.
First, it starts by deciding to give a shit. It is all too easy to shut-out the world and focus solely on yourself. Or ignoring the truths that are self-evident in front of you. But by giving a shit – regardless of what that shit is about – you are actively leaning into life, moving beyond the inertia and ennui and shaking of the rust of spiritual oxidization that tends to settle on us as we get older (and frequently more jaded). You don’t need me to suggest what you should give a shit about; take a look outside your window. Maybe the older person across the street would be happy to know that you know they are alive and that their aliveness matters….to someone. Maybe it’s the local cause or the local store or the local candidate or the local group. There are no ends to the potential sources of your give-a-shitness nestled close to where you are, right now.
Second, we need to re-label the word ‘give’. I don’t mean it in the sole sense of dollars and cents. Those are nice, and charities and non-profits and small businesses REALLY DO appreciate your money, be it as a product ordered or a donation made. But ‘give’ means, to my eyes, the ability to offer SOMETHING of yourself to help those in needs. We can give time. We can give advice. We can give items from our pantries and our closets. We can give ideas, and hope, and inspiration, by being that smiling beacon in a sea of frowns. We can give love and compassion, virtual hugs in the interim, to those who simply need a reminder that together-but-apart is more than a pandemic buzz phrase. We can give of ourselves by volunteering, going from the ‘big boss’ in your own enterprise to the box-stuffer at the food bank.
Third, we need to re-define who we support with our giving (money, time, energy, etc.). In much the same way as ‘confirmation bias’ creeps into our thinking as we seek out the already familiar, charitable giving tends to follow a similar pattern. We’ll write the cheques to those that we know, the groups addressing the problems that we already understand and see as problems. But in this age of societal change, there are many stories that you and I don’t know, and that we probably should know. Get uncomfortable with your philanthropy; hell, use it as a bridge to breakthrough (or to expunge the dirt from your soul, if you so desire). Never forget that Albert Nobel invented the greatest mass-murder material of his age – TNT – and then used some of the proceeds of his death-dollars to fund a peace prize (okay, and a prize for more chemistry research; knuckles wrapped and analogy stretched too far….but you get the gist). Sit, listen, be an ally. Giving of yourself – and giving someone your open-mind to listen and to be edified – is one of the greatest gifts any human can give to another.
Fourth, we should be clear that the old adage ‘charity begins at home’ is a truism for a reason. National organizations and global concerns are doing incredible work. But like news, all good starts local, and I’d strongly encourage everyone to pivot a few dollars from the ‘name brand’ charities and shift them to a group of underpaid (if paid at all), hard workers who are the literal ‘feet on the ground’ of any attempt to make positive change happen in your community. Check your local Community Foundation for great groups doing great work close to your home.
And finally, did I mention that there are lots of good medical reasons to give? In this article, the authors outlined five (5) good reasons to give:
1. Giving makes us feel happy. A 2008 study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and colleagues found that giving money to someone else lifted participants’ happiness more that spending it on themselves (despite participants’ prediction that spending on themselves would make them happier).
2. Giving is good for our health. A wide range of research has linked different forms of generosity to better health, even among the sick and elderly. In his book Why Good Things Happen to Good People, Stephen Post, a professor of preventative medicine at Stony Brook University, reports that giving to others has been shown to increase health benefits in people with chronic illness, including HIV and multiple sclerosis.
3. Giving promotes cooperation and social connection. When you give, you’re more likely to get back: Several studies, including work by sociologists Brent Simpson and Robb Willer, have suggested that when you give to others, your generosity is likely to be rewarded by others down the line—sometimes by the person you gave to, sometimes by someone else.
4. Giving evokes gratitude. Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of a gift, that gift can elicit feelings of gratitude—it can be a way of expressing gratitude or instilling gratitude in the recipient. And research has found that gratitude is integral to happiness, health, and social bonds.
5. Giving is contagious. When we give, we don’t only help the immediate recipient of our gift. We also spur a ripple effect of generosity through our community.
If you, like me, find yourself in fortunate-enough circumstances, now is not the year to play Scrooge. If you can, make it rain on those in need, be it in need of a kind voice or a hefty donation to pay the staff in the coming year. Give of yourself like Rumi’s river, generously and without reserve. And then give yourself a little pat on the back that you’ve done your part to help us stick together.
For those you are about to help, I salute you!
With nothing but gratitude,
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