When a baby comes into the world, its hands are clenched. Because a baby not knowing any better, wants to grab everything, to say the whole world is mine.

When an old person dies, he does so with his hands open. Because he has learned his lesson. We can take nothing with us.

This beautiful quote by the famous writer Mitch Albom personifies man’s journey from the cradle to the grave. How we come into this world and our immediate instinct is to grab stuff, hold things, take support, gain knowledge, get inspiration, receive praise, absorb love and affection. And as we grow up, we lose stuff, people move on, things change based on our fate and we learn to get less possessive abt what we have.  As we reach closer to death, the realisation that, try as we may, we will not be able to take anything with us, dawns on us, and we intensify our act of giving, wanting to do good to as many people as we can, before our last breath.

In a very different way, Adam Grant, in his book, has focused on the topic of Give and Take. He goes on to describe, how we are either a taker, who is looking to receive all the time (not to be construed as someone greedy or cunning, as many times, this is quiet subconscious behaviour), or a giver, who is looking to give all the time, even if he might not have anything to give (which is the noblest state)  and then there are matchers, who are always trying to strike a balance between the two (Once I get, I will give away what is excess, etc.).

Give and take 2

Interestingly enough, as we further probe on what Mitch has said, its important to realise that a child is a taker, not by choice. Its assumed that the child does not have the capability to learn anything by himself and hence the tools of learnings are provided to him/her. And as parents and teachers, we feel obligated to provide all possible means for the child to grow up to be healthy, wealthy and wise. In the initial stages, if the child gets overdue attached to his stuff, then we coax him/her to think otherwise by the slogan ‘sharing is caring’. But, we do not inculcate a ‘spirit of giving‘ in them, as a conscious act in day to day life.

I remember once on my father’s birthday, we decided to gift pack of stationary items as gifts to students in a school for underprivileged kids. This was to help my daughter experience the ‘act of giving‘. My daughter’s school had organised annual Mela and she and her friends decided to collect old books and sell them for charity. No prize for guessing where the charity amount went to. Yes, to the same school. However, this did not translate into lifetime learning of giving for my daughter. It was more of a ‘special act’ which got her more ‘aware’ of the ‘joy of giving‘. 

In our day-to-day life, we see several acts of give and take, where its interesting to see the perspective of people involved the perception.

  • A traffic cop catches a man attempting to jump the red light. Cop feels proud on getting the Rs.1000 fine and letting the man go off with a warning. Who is big here? The Cop might feel happy about his ‘catch’, but in reality, the giver, the violator is big as he had the luxury of giving away a small amount as price for his freedom. A traffic violation fine has never made anyone bankrupt. Giver Wins.
  • Jeff Bezos divorce settlement made big news. He was made to pay a whopping amount of $38bn to his wife, as part of the settlement. His net-worth, $128bn at that time, grew to an amount upwards of $200bn subsequently. Giver wins.

When the conversation is about giving, one of the standard comments is ‘I will give once I have more than what I need. How can I give before that.” the  truth is, that once you have ‘intent’ to give, the world contrives to facilitate the process for you. If you don’t have any material possession on you and you are completely bankrupt, you will still have ‘experience’ to share with people, which can be life-transforming for people. 

 “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” -Samuel Johnson 

In a beautiful quote in the book, Adam Grant further explains : The more I help out, the more successful I become. But I measure success in what it has done for the people around me. That is the real accolade.

Explaining more on the ‘balance’ in life between the givers and takers, Adam shares the following : This is what I find most magnetic about successful givers: they get to the top without cutting others down, finding ways of expanding the pie that benefit themselves and the people around them. Whereas success is zero-sum in a group of takers, in groups of givers, it may be true that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Giving is contagious and infectious. Its a fact proven even on crowdfunding platform’s like Impactguru.com, where people run campaigns, collecting funds for treatment of their near and dear ones. The first few donation amounts and who makes them, sets the tone of the campaign.  Sharing of our donations on social media triggers interest in many other people, who may not even be related to the patient and they are also encouraged to donate.

The act with maximum potential of giving is the gift of knowledge. The world can make do with thousands of more teachers and professors. Gift of education can change someone for life. 

If I look at my own experience of giving, the 26 acts of kindness that i did in 2018, the subsequent warmth, love and affection I got from people far far exceeded the satisfaction of those few acts alone. And subconsciously I ended up doing many more acts, though insignificant in size. What mattered was that it inculcated a ‘spirit of giving‘ and I am sure it must have triggered ideas among many others. I have always found it odd that people consider doing ‘charity’ once they are old and retired. Its assumed that acts of charity are very time consuming and need lot of money. In reality, both these points are not true. One can start small and if you don’t have time, its perfectly fine to donate to an organisation you trust and use the time to keep earning. There is no point in travelling across half the world to Africa and personally feeding the poor, if you could be making thousands of dollars by being at work during that time and donating a larger share of your earnings.

When we treat man as he is, we make him worse than he is; when we treat him as if he already were what he potentially could be, we make him what he should be. —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German writer, physicist, biologist, and artist

So go ahead and do a good deed today.

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Hetal Sonpal

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