The Obsession of Giving

Jim Roberts
December, 1, 2014 -

Sir Winston Churchill once said “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” These words have always inhabited my thoughts; a simple, profound truth. Think for a moment what it would be like if we were all obsessed by what we gave and not with what we get. Greed only corrupts the human heart–compassion invigorates it!

It seems to me, that we have enthroned “getting” in our culture. Sure, we have to receive income in order to live, but it doesn’t take excess in order to give. In fact, giving can simply be an effort to lighten another person’s burden; a helping hand, a kindness, gentle words of encouragement or even a smile. Getting is about us – giving is about others. We errantly measure a person’s social value and worth by their accumulation of wealth and things. Getting may produce a higher standard of living, but it does not make a life. A life worth living only comes through giving. I heard it once said, as we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own pathway. What a great philosophy to live by!

I have worked in the human services business for almost 45 years and I have never regretted a moment of it. It is an industry truly obsessed with giving each and every day. Unlike a superficial annual gesture, serving others is a lifestyle of giving, it becomes a life transforming habit for both the giver and recipient. It is experiencing life to the fullest. Being surrounded by such a atmosphere of compassion has been a rich blessing in my journey through life.

In this “season of giving” I would like to offer two challenges. The first, make an inventory of all the folks who have given bountifully into your life or the lives of those close to you, and make the effort to acknowledge and honor that gift. I, too, was so challenged once in my life and was amazed by the congregation of givers I was surrounded by. This is a most humbling revelation and well worth the exercise. The second, change your thinking about giving. Best selling author, and Behavioral Science Academic, Dr. Steve Maraboli, says it well “Don't wait for other people to be loving, giving, compassionate, grateful, forgiving, generous, or friendly... lead the way!” The purpose is to make giving a lifestyle-habit. So become a role model of giving and lead the way for others! Become immersed in giving and you will quench your thirst for wanting.

There will never be a lack of need within the communities we reside. Nor will you or I be able to meet the depth and breadth of the needs surrounding us. But we can each do our part. Some have greater means, some have greater time, but we all have unlimited opportunity. Giving is a discipline. It takes commitment, effort and consistency. It’s like becoming a good tennis player, musician or gardener; the more you do it, the more you learn it, the better you get at it. Not everyone is gifted as a giver like Mother Theresa, able to serve in the slums of India or impoverished villages in Africa. But everyone has some ability to lighten another person’s burden.

Think about those words, “We make a life by what we give.” You see, there is no life if there is no giving. Nature has given us an amazing example, the Dead Sea! This body of water is lifeless. Why, because it only takes in with no outflow. Water must flow in and out of a lake for it to be healthy and not die. You and I are no different. If someone only gets, takes and self-obsesses, they may be alive but there is no “life.”

This holiday season, let’s remember and acknowledge those who give gracelessly and continuously; and let us make the commitment to become role models of giving – leading the way for others!