- The act of giving
- Transfer possession of something concrete or abstract to somebody
Let us start by talking about the antonym of giving, which isn’t receiving, it is taking. Whether we were always like this, or it is a new thing, we have become a society of takers, and we’ll take anything we can get. So why are we like this? Is it in our biological make up? Is our dna encoded with selfishness? Well according to some scientists concerned with evolution, maybe it is!
- Concerned chiefly or only with yourself and your advantage to the exclusion of others
As a species, human beings have been very successful; we have survived the worst the elements could throw at us, and we have come out the other side laughing. We have cities, cars, nice houses, plenty of food to eat (in some countries), and we have enough leisure time to enjoy doing things we like doing.
No more going out hunting and gathering every day for us. Those times have well passed, and we are now an advanced civilisation able to grow enough food around the world to feed everybody, and have the technology so that everyone can have clean water. This should be paradise for all of us, except it isn’t, for so many. Millions of people are starving, dehydrated, sick from disease, on the run from war, homeless, helpless. Yet we carry on with our perfect lives, which you remember, are so easy now.
In the west, we aren’t short of anything. We eat nice food, drink wine, go out to restaurants, go on holidays, go to the cinema and the theatre, gossip about our neighbours, mow the lawn, water the plants, and sit back and relax with a nice evening in front of the tv. Ahh, what could be better? Yet only a few hours away by plane there are people fighting for their lives.
Let me ask you a question: How many times have you flown long haul? The reason I am asking is that most of the big jets have a moving map on the back of the seat, which shows where you are, and which countries you are crossing over. I was fascinated by my reaction as we passed over countries where I knew fighting or killing was still going on, knowing that right at that moment, I was passing over people who were screaming in pain or starving, at the point of death. I was saddened that I flying above death, and destruction, enjoying myself; but then I switched over to the movie channel and all was well again. A meal was served or a cold drink from the bar and a bag of peanuts and those people’s problems could be as far away as pluto as far as I was concerned.
Does that make me selfish? I didn’t think so; this was an alien world to me. These people weren’t my problem, what could I do? I had my own problems to think about. But it did make me start to think. Maybe selfishness is the reason we were so successful as a species. Maybe thinking only about number one and our close family group is the reason we are still here. Maybe it is every man for himself. Maybe before going to help someone else we have to help ourselves. So many maybes, so few answers.
What do you think? Are you selfish? Do you put yourself before others, and if so, is it a bad thing? Do you feel guilty about doing it or does it not even enter your mind?
Unfortunately, the whole issue of whether we are born to be selfish has been clouded by the fact that selfishness has been positively encouraged by modern western capitalist governments. We have been encouraged to think only about what we can get for ourselves, and this principle has helped drive our economies to be highly successful. We are only interested in making money for me.
I want to get rich. I want to be successful. I want to have the most successful company in the world. I want a big house. I want a big car. I want I want I want, and I will get. And if you have enough skill and determination you may just get there. But then what?
You have enough money and security, for you, your partner, and your children. None of you want for anything. Everyone can have anything. You will never have to worry about money again. Does this make you less selfish now you have everything you have ever wanted? Will you suddenly start to give? Perhaps.
Maybe you will donate large sums of money to charity. Maybe you will dedicate some of your time to working for a charity, maybe helping to raise money for them. You may set up a foundation. But let me ask you one thing. Would you have done these things if you weren’t successful, if you weren’t rich?
What if you were the average man in the street, with a poorly paid job, a small house, little money, two children, and debts. Would you still help others? Based on the evidence we have seen, you wouldn’t think so.
“I’m too busy; I’ve got enough problems without helping other people.”
Yet strangely, people do!
I am not one of those people. In my life, I never thought about helping others. I worked hard (sometimes), enjoyed myself, bought myself nice things, ran up bills on my credit cards, went to the pub, and mostly thought about no one else – not even my parents really. I couldn’t even be bothered sending them birthday cards or giving presents (unless I had plenty of extra money left over to spend on myself). So if you want to talk selfish, you don’t need to look any further than me! I only worried about how much money I had for myself.
Did my parents encourage that attitude? Was I born like it; or was I merely conditioned into behaving a certain way by society? I do not know the answer, but I know that all the time I was growing up and beyond, my parents themselves did charitable work, and in fact have been charitable to me my whole life! Any time I got into trouble with money, there they were, ready to bail me out – always ready to give a helping hand; selflessly, because I was their son. Maybe by helping me all the time, they unwittingly kept me selfish, but I will never know and neither will they. All I know is that I never helped one person in life. I only helped myself.
Writing this now seems strange, as I feel I am writing about someone else, someone I do not know. But this person is me, but just at a different time. Does this seem terrible to you reading how selfish I have been, when all I have been thinking about is me. My happiness. My sadness. My problems. Me, me, me?
What I want to explore with you is whether there is anything wrong with that attitude? Why does it have to be bad to be thinking about oneself all the time? Who does it hurt? If you were to have posed that question to me several years ago, I would have said nobody, and taken great affront at the fact you had asked me that question. You see, the problem is, a selfish person doesn’t even know they are being selfish because they are too wrapped up in themselves!
Once again, we come back to our old friend, awareness. But if I am being selfish, and I am aware I am being selfish, will I still be selfish? That will be your choice, but the more you become aware of yourself in action, the more likely you are to shift your thinking.
As we recall, awareness is that fraction of a micro-second in between thought and action, where you stop, just for a moment before you actually do what you are thinking about doing. It is in that moment when selfishness leaves and unselfishness can enter.
Let the giving begin!
For those of you concerned that I am suggesting you hand over all your worldly possessions to a charity, let me assure you that that is not what giving is about! It is not about being altruistic and public spirited. It is a shift in thinking.
Giving is not concerned with not earning money, for that is necessary in this society to live, nor is it about letting others use you as a doormat and taking advantage of your giving nature. It is about going beyond selfishness.
Do for the benefit of all others
So how do you do something for the benefit of all others? Does this mean you cannot work to earn money for yourself, or cannot go on holiday, or buy a television, or a nice car? Of course not. I am realistic that we live in a modern world and we like to have modern things; we also have to earn money to buy food, pay our bills and taxes which help the wider community. This is about thinking not about yourself, or your family or kinship groups, but about everybody in the whole world – even the ones who haven’t been born yet.
Think about it for a moment. Think about what an important gift that is. The work and the life you lead is for the benefit of all others!
I can hear most of you grumbling about how this doesn’t make sense, and how you can’t see it working, and it’s not possible, and that actually, it’s one of the stupidest ideas you’ve ever heard! But it’s not an idea, it’s a way of living that simply states: “Every action I do, I do for the benefit of the planet, the children in africa, the murderer in prison, the future generations, the oceans, the girl who was raped last night, the rivers, the people suffering from illness mental and physical, the drunk man in the street, the greedy man, the violent husband…”
If this is all a bit too philosophical and whimsical for you, let’s start talking in plain language, shall we?
One big reason for a lot of problems here on this planet (which you remember you share with billions of others, plants, animals, insects, fish and humans), is you! In your selfishness, you have forgotten that we are all linked by a common bond; nature. Something we seem determined to stamp out, if it’s the last thing we do. We seem to have forgotten that every action we take affects someone, somewhere else. That’s not philosophy, that’s a fact.
If we all decide to eat beef, forests must be cleared for grazing; cattle must be watered, grain must be grown in a field, which must be watered and harvested, and processed to feed the cattle. Someone must then butcher the cattle, process the cattle, pack them in plastic which must be moulded after the oil is drilled from the ground; then shipped in cartons, that use cardboard that comes from trees which must be cut down; then loaded onto a truck which must be made from metal which must be mined then manufactured in a factory that must be built and run on electricity which must be mined, then burned then distributed, to generate electricity; and then the truck will carry the meat, using fuel, which is petroleum, which comes from oil, which is dug out of the ground, to the shop where it stored which uses electricity. Finally you buy it, take it home, cook it using electricity and eat in five minutes flat.
So, hopefully, you can see from this simplistic model, how our actions affect others. All others, not just some others. Remember that.
The whole world is about links. This book is about subjects that are linked. You are linked to so many events and people in the world you don’t even know about! That is why we must do everything for the benefit of all others, because if we remain selfish and do everything for the benefit of ourselves, we are still affecting others on the planet, only more likely than not, it will be adversely. I think the main problem is in the western world, most people are not aware they are adversely affecting others. Let me give you a quick example.
If an upstanding member of the community who does charity for work for the homeless and orphaned children in the united states decides he will buy an orphaned child a soft fluffy toy, most of you would think it is a nice gesture, and the child who has seen so much sadness in its life, will be happy to receive such a gift. But the toy was made in china by a child labourer, the same age as the recipient. He is forced to work 12 hours a day for next to nothing. The money that is raised by the sale of the toy, goes back to fund the military and a government that is a brutally oppressive regime.
This is not about making ethical choices. It is about awareness of how everything you do is linked to something else. So before you take action, reflect for a moment on the effect it is having on all others, and ask yourself if the action is to the detriment of anyone or anything else on the planet. That is the principle of giving as I see it.
Most of you will say “This is too hard, how are we to research all the links in the world to see if buying a fluffy toy has a detriment on any others? That’s a crazy and unworkable idea!”
It may seem hard to do, but the most important things in life are never easy. A lot of you might argue and say “What about giving time, isn’t that important?” or “If no one gave money to charity lots more people would suffer or die in the world,” or “how dare you criticise the work that charities do, they are helping people and the planet the world over, without them the world would be a worse place to live in…”
The way I see it, charity is the end result of selfishness. Giving is the beginning of compassion.