GIVING AND THE LIFE OF SERVICE
by Lawrence Wilson, MD
© May 2011, The Center For Development
Giving is a part of everyone’s daily life. Some giving goes on unconsciously as we interact with each other and our environment. On the other hand, knowing when, where and how to give consciously so as to have a positive impact is an art we can work on our entire lives.
Giving as a way of life is also sometimes called a life of service. This is a noble way to live that pays many subtle rewards. These are the subjects of this article.
LEVELS OF GIVING
People give on many levels. At one extreme are private prayers, hopes and requests for others that are often not shared with anyone. Another level is simple interpersonal giving, whether to friends, family or strangers whom one encounters.
One may also give of one’s time, effort or money as part of an organization such as a church, or giving through a service group such as the Rotary Club, United Way, Salvation Army or thousands of other charitable groups. Finally, we give money through taxes to hundreds of governmental “charities” such as Social Services, public schools, government research, and much more. This is not exactly giving because the money is taken or confiscated by force. However, it is a lower form of charity to some degree, one could argue. The essence of all giving has to do with sharing the love that you are.
CONSCIOUSNESS AND GIVING
Human beings often go through several stages that impact their giving. Young children and many adults tend to be self-centered. They see themselves as the center of the universe and giving to others is not prominent in their consciousness. They tend to take much more than they give.
As some people mature, they realize that their well-being and happiness are bound up with the happiness of others. They begin to reach out. This leads to a greater tendency to share what they have with others less fortunate.
Martyrs. An extreme of sharing is martyrdom. This is a disregard for the self, directing most of one’s energy toward the welfare of others. Martyrs believe that the self does not count for much.
While martyrs have done much good, much evil has also been committed in the name of martyrdom. Most recently we see the Islamic terrorists who are all too willing to “give it all” (give their life) for some vague reward in the future. Martyrdom can be wonderful if the reasons for the selfless acts are scrutinized carefully enough.
A mature spiritual position is to be centered in the self in order to know how to care for the self, and yet to feel at a deep level the connection between oneself and everything on the planet, including all of humanity, and even the plants, animals, the land, water and the air. One can then learn discernment as to how, when and where to share one’s time, energy, money or skills. The goal becomes to maximize the benefits for all and to best assist the development of oneself and all others to produce a mature, spiritually oriented society and planet. This is not an easy task and one that takes a lifetime of practice.
MOTIVES FOR GIVING
In accordance with the above, motives for giving vary greatly. One may give to a college so your child will be accepted there. Another may give money to a cause so as to look good in society, or to impress friends or family, or to assuage the guilt one feels because others are not as well off, or perhaps because one acquired one’s money is a less than honorable fashion.
Giving may also be out of a genuine desire to of help, or because you recognize your connection with others so deeply you know that you will not be truly happy until others are happy, or at least cared for.
When ego or selfish motives cloud the giving process, the results tend not to be as good. Many who give fro guilt or fear tend to spoil others, for example, or to give in other ways that are less effective for the recipient. Thus, it is always good to examine your motives for giving on a regular basis.
An increasing phenomenon today is for people to turn the business of charity over to the government. Traditionally in America, the role of government was strictly limited by our federal and state constitutions to such functions as making treaties, raising an army and navy, maintaining the roads and post offices, collecting taxes, and just a handful of other duties. Constitutional safeguards have been set aside, however, and in the past 100 years the American government has grown much larger.
Today, people vote for representatives who in turn decide to have the government support education, hospitals, medical and other research, extensive social service networks, emergency relief such as FEMA, and much more. The feeling is that somehow individuals cannot do this. Hurricane Katrina should have taught us differently, but it did not.
It is critical to realize that government welfare differs from private welfare in a very important way. Government funds are collected at the point of a gun. That is, if one does not pay one’s taxes to support all these activities, one goes to jail. This is quite different from Catholic Services, for example, which is totally voluntary. If one prefers to donate elsewhere or simply withhold donations, one is perfectly free to do so.
It is unfortunate that this distinction is not made clearer, because charity, to be charity, must be voluntary. When it is coerced, there are many negative consequences for both the givers and the receivers. For the givers, forced charity causes resentment and anger when the taxes are due. It also turns many people into cheaters and liars as they seek to minimize how much they must “give” to their government. It also makes people feel they have fulfilled their duty to society by paying taxes, so they can ignore the poor and others in need. In other words, it builds selfishness in subtle ways.
For those receiving government welfare, there develops a handout mentality or entitlement mentality. That is, people believe that they are entitled to welfare, when this is not really the case. They often become lazy, do not want to work, and even become angry and resentful because the opportunity to work to earn money is taken from them. They also often become very angry when the welfare is either inadequate or worse, if is it cut off. For the nation, government welfare is extremely inefficient and costly. It is based upon sending billions or trillions of dollars from individuals to government centers. Then the money is shuffled around by thousands of bureaucrats who must oversee its collection and distribution, and then the money is sent back to the states and the cities. This involves costly collection costs, costly processing and costly distribution costs because at each step they must try to avoid the three-headed monsters of fraud, waste and abuse. These are very difficult to control in a centralized bureaucratic system.
Fraud and abuse occur, for example, when people want a benefit or welfare who don’t need or deserve it. It also occurs if people cheat on their taxes. It also occurs when organizations such as hospitals, clinics, food banks and other recipients of government money cheat or lie or steal to obtain more government welfare. It also occurs when individuals who run these programs personally cheat, lie and steal some of the money they are supposed to administer. It also occurs when the government bureaucrats themselves cheat, lie and steal some of the money they are entrusted to manage. They can do this in many ways, such as paying themselves very high salaries and good benefits that divert and remove a lot of the tax money from the poor and sick people for whom it was intended. Waste is also rampant in these programs because massive paperwork and literally armies of “welfare police”, who are bureaucrats hired to police the system, are required to try to control the abuse. They do this by requiring recipients to file a lot of paperwork, for example, that wastes everyone’s time and energy.
As a result, in all nations that have government welfare programs, they are full of corruption, greed, and abuse. This is not to say that no good comes from ‘forced’ government charity, but much evil comes from it as well. these problems can occur as well in private charities, but the difference is that without a distant bureaucratic centralized system, the problems of waste, fraud and abuse are far easier to see and control. Also, a private charity that abuses its mission is often exposed and is forced out of business. So it acts more responsibly out of fear. Government welfare agencies are today “exposed” for what they do all the time, yet they rarely face any consequences and they almost never are terminated or go out of business. They are often protected by unions and by politicians who, themselves, are part of the cheating, lying and stealing that occurs in these welfare agencies.
It is all too easy to say, “let the government take care of the poor and the sick”. Yet most people do not realize the many problems this mentality creates, and that it just does not work nearly as efficiently or as well morally, psychologically or financially as private welfare. People who believe this feel they are compassionate, yet often they just don’t want the responsibility themselves. They would rather pay taxes and let someone else worry about it.
SPIRITUAL ASPECTS OF GIVING
One can give from fullness or from emptiness. Giving from fullness means that one is first filled from within. One gives as an overflowing of one’s bounty or time because one has an excess of love, energy, money or other talents, goods or services to share. An analogy is to imagine holding a glass under a spigot until the water overflows the glass onto your hand and the surrounding area. The water is shared because there is extra.
Giving from emptiness, however, is the more common way giving occurs. It takes place when one gives out of compulsion, shame, anger, fear or other motives, often in spite of a deeper desire to relax and nurture the self. While all giving is wonderful, this type of giving often leads to burnout.
From the above, it is evident that giving has much to with receiving. They are bound together in mysterious ways. Some people give in order to receive, and it works well for them. Others give and become depleted or “burned out”, and some even become bitter or disillusioned. These are not easy issues to clarify, as our unconscious thoughts and motives are often not obvious.
An important principle in this regard is to include oneself in the circle of one’s giving. Receiving has to do with allowing the self to be nourished and nurtured so as to be able to accumulate or store up the necessary energy, time, money or talents with which to give. Thus giving to oneself in order to give to others is a critical principle. This is done because one realizes one’s own worth, and the part one plays in the whole picture of giving and receiving. To imagine that the self does not count and others are more important is incorrect at best, and extremely destructive at worst.
UNINTENDED RESULTS OF GIVING
Giving can sometimes produce negative results. In America, the poor are becoming poorer, more dependent and even angry and more demanding of those that provide charity. After Hurricane Katrina, a large number of people became angry at the help they received, although technically no one ‘owed’ them anything at all.
The entitlement mentality has taken such a hold in America, thanks to massive government welfare programs, that at times recipients of tax monies or private charity do not appreciate the help and take it for granted.
Giving properly involves understanding the needs of others so deeply that you are aware when you have overdone it, as there is much people are better off doing themselves.
Sadly, one of the motives for giving is exactly this - to make the recipients more dependent, not less so. Those who run welfare agencies often wish to protect their jobs and their powerful positions. The best way to do this is to ensure that their services will be needed more and more. Thus the policies they adopt, even if arrived at unconsciously, often seek to perpetuate the poverty or disability that they are in charge of correcting. All welfare states eventually suffer this problem. More and more people mysteriously become impoverished and needy, until the system goes bankrupt and collapses.
Thus giving is complex and requires plenty of reflection so as not to spoil others, not to create dependency, and to avoid burn out and disillusionment by the givers.
Although there will always be those who cannot take care of themselves, most people can and need to learn how to manage their money, and how to make a living. These are critical skills in any culture. When deprived of learning opportunities, even by well-meaning do-gooders, they are made more helpless and dependent. Proof of this in our nation is the existence of an entire class of welfare-dependent people who only know how to milk the system to meet their needs. In Europe, these people are “on the dole” and they may constitute up to twenty of thirty percent of the population. They are not happy, even if their needs are taken care of.
In general, private charities are much more aware of these dangers of giving, and much more motivated to uncover and deal with them. Statistics consistently show that private welfare groups, when allowed to compete fairly, do a much better job than the government at welfare, at a fraction of the cost of government welfare systems. However, few voices are raised to utter this fact among our state and federal representatives. Perhaps this is because Congressman have jobs to defend as well. The more the citizens are weak and dependent, the more secure are the jobs of those who cater to these groups in our society.
To realize that ‘forced’ giving through taxation is not the same as when it is voluntary and to reflect on your motives and the outcomes of your giving are worthy exercises for everyone.
Radiating love is a special type of giving that does not spoil people or cause them to become dependent. In fact, it can help them to wake up to their true power. First Corinthians in the New Testament states “If I give all I have to the poor yet have not love, I gain nothing”. - 1 Corinthians 13:1-8.
Buddhists speak of compassion, a sensation or warmth that some people radiate to all whom they meet, no matter what is the situation. One may radiate love when one is the garbage collector, a letter carrier or just a passerby. Even one who lays dying in a hospital bed can radiate love. Your position does not matter, nor does your technical skill or expertise. What does matter is a desire to radiate the love that you are to all whom you meet, all of the time, even if the other people do not realize what you are doing, do not care, and may even be antagonistic or hostile toward you.
In the end, radiating a loving quality is often more important than giving things, money, or even your time. For if you do it, your giving will be felt as genuine, while if you do not, your giving will miss an essential element of human kindness and will not be felt to be as real, no matter how hard you try. This is more of a problem with forced giving, as in government welfare that is ‘mandated’. It is not as much about love, but rather follows bureaucratic rules. The recipients and even the givers may feel this, and they know that something is missing.
Giving or service to others should be an integral part of daily life, a way of living and being that occurs unconsciously with every breath. It should not be isolated and separated in a government agency or just giving at church on Sunday. Giving with love, for the right reasons and at the appropriate times, however, is not often easy to learn.
Many times when we believe we are giving sincerely we give with the expectation of reward or return, or with another motive that is less than ideal. However, let us continue to work with our motives such as gaining favor with others, allaying our fears or pacifying our friends and families, and giving from a deeper place will become easier.
At the same time let us continue to strive for the highest form of giving - from fullness, from deep within, and to extend the love we are with every thought, word and deed.
books and articles are available about giving, mainly from spiritual or
religious texts including, of course, the bible. Some material for this article came from newer book, A Course in Miracles. If this book is difficult to fathom, I
have written a brief summary of the principles in an article entitled entitled The Universal Curriculum and in a
somewhat more detailed book, The Real Self.