Rambling of the Day: What it takes to give

5 Aug

What does it mean to be generous? I think oftentimes we get the concept of generosity confused with the concept of wealth; however, these two are vastly different and in some cases not even related. In fact, arguably the most generous people in history have not been so out of abundant wealth but rather out of abundant compassion and love.

When we think about the generous people of our day, big names come to mind, like Oprah, maybe Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates. These people get a lot of media attention for using their wealth and power to help others. They have foundations established in their names, awards on their shelves for their philanthropy – everyone knows that they are charitable.

Which is awesome, don’t get me wrong. They are generous people, and it’s a wonderful thing that they choose to use their wealth for good.

But I think that seeing that Oprah giving away a car to every audience member has somewhat distorted our idea of what it means to be generous. We think, “Oh, that’s so nice that she can do that. It must be great to have money to throw away. If I had that I would be generous, too.”

Let’s be real. Having a lot of money or things is not going to make you a more generous person. I don’t think being overwhelmingly generous is what makes 90 percent of lottery winners spend all their winnings in less than five years. Or why the King of Pop had at least $300 million in debt when he died. In fact…

“One of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America is that the people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income.” Ken SternThe Atlantic

That’s right – in 2011, America’s wealthiest 20 percent of earners donated about 1.3 percent of their income to charity, whereas the bottom 20 percent of earners donated 3.2 percent of their income. That’s not middle of the road earners; we’re talking about bottom of the pyramid earners.

There are a lot of theories as to why that is (you can read some here) but I don’t feel the need to go into that. Being rich doesn’t make you a bad person, and this post isn’t an outcry about the selfishness of the wealthy. I simply bring up these numbers to show you that it’s not about how much money you make. Accruing more wealth won’t make it easier to give to others.

What makes it easier to give to others is having a compassionate spirit and a loving heart. It’s having the insight to realize that life is not about what you can acquire for yourself but rather what you can do to make the world better for others. It’s understanding that life is more meaningful when you live selflessly, give willingly, and walk humbly.

After all, I’d argue the most generous man to live didn’t have a salary at all.
He was a homeless, traveling storyteller with no possessions but the clothes on His back. And He was born in a barn, for goodness sake.

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