In a world with so many crises, so many needs, is it necessary to break apart the why underlying donations and unconditional support and giving? Is it enough to appreciate that there are people who give? I ask this partially tongue in cheek because it is a fascinating query to pose:
Do we give, despite ourselves, or, for ourselves?
I believe giving, counterintuitively, is a plus and not a minus. The act adds to us, and doesn't deplete.
Biological arguments often focus on the evolutionary conundrum: evolutionarily, altruism can counter the continuation of one’s genes. Biologists and evolutionary psychologists have tried to get around this. There has been research that identifies that people are most likely to help their kin: those related to them. A recent review in the New York Review of Books, “The Biology of Being Good to Others,” by H. Allen Orr looks at David Sloan Wilson’s book, Does Altruism Exist?: Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others. In a nutshell, Wilson explains altruism under a concept of multilevel selection, arguing that serving others can be better for the community and the community level continuation can take precedence over the individual. As Orr articulates, this is replicated in the ant community where each ant takes on tasks for the benefit for the entire colony even if that means the ant doesn’t procreate (something otherwise very much at odds with basic evolutionary theory).
In contrast, religions, meditation practices, and positive psychology look to how giving expands well being. One gives to the church, the synagogue, the mosque, and to the community. Self becomes bigger than the individual and is shared with the chosen community. Being of service gets one out of one’s head and allows for perspective.
Perhaps for some, giving isn’t kin-based but one waits for the right person. I want to quote from Erich Fromm’s Art of Loving for those who may still be waiting to give to that right person. “If a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow men, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment, or an enlarged egotism. … Because one does not see that love is an activity, a peer of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary to find is the right object—and that everything goes by itself afterward. This attitude can be compared to that of a man who wants to paint but, who, instead of learning the art, claims that he has just to wait for the right object, and that he will paint beautifully when he finds it.” Begin practicing love and giving now: don’t wait.
For today, release yourself from thinking about what you will get today. Set an intention on what you will give today. For me, this requires an active shift in approaching the world that I hope will become less conscious and more natural with time. I want to live in a community that gives and shares and thrives. I want to be the giver.