Dare: I Gave, I Give, I Keep Giving

[Note: today's post is in support of Blog Action Day's "The Power of We," which you can find out more about here]

Give: [with two objects] to freely transfer the possession of (something) to (someone)

I was going to try to be clever and translate this post’s title into Latin—and when Google informed me that “to give” in Latin is “dare,”  it just put a new spin on everything I had been planning to say.

I talked awhile ago about the word “mine,” and all the grasping and clutching and nasty ownership byproducts it can produce. But if “mine” is protective and clutching something toward yourself, “to give” is daring, to make yourself open and vulnerable, to unclench your hands and release what’s in them, not only to give up possession of a thing, but if you’re really fully giving, to also give up your expectation of what will happen to that thing as well. (This last insight, on expectation, was given to me by a very wise friend, and it has permanently affected my perspective on giving.)

To give is to make an offering, to dare to say, even on the smallest level, “I would like to honor you by presenting this thing which I hope will please you.” You are humbling yourself, opening your heart to that other person, who you care enough about to offer this expression of care or admiration. Even if it’s just a $20 gift card, it means something.

Stores have had fake Christmas trees under their rafters for more than a month now, and every year the impending pressures of the holiday season can knock a little wind out of my sails. Of all times of the year, this is where the word “giving” usually has the emotional baggage of “mandatory” attached to it, which can often suck all the spontaneity and life out of giving anything. You make a list, you imagine what you’d like to do, you calculate how much you can actually afford, you guess at how much each person will spend on you, and, at the base of it, you try to make it heartfelt while trying to make everyone happy. It’s enough to want to make a person hibernate, no matter how good their intentions.

Many moons ago, I fell in love with an organization called Heifer International which partners with communities in poverty all over the world. Heifer’s “gift catalog” is filled with animals you buy for communities involved in Heifer projects. These communities, who want to provide a more self-sustaining life for themselves, have contacted Heifer to develop a plan for their area (for example, a local milk cooperative) and then, if the project goes forward, the participants not only receive training and education in agriculture but then livestock suited for their geographical area (cows, goats, camels, etc.) as well. It’s not a food drop in an emergency situation—though those are also valuable and necessary things—this is building a sustainable livelihood. And you get to help by purchasing cows. Or water buffaloes. Or pigs. Or sheep. Whatever is best for their project. And so you get to send a card (or anything you care to do) to your friend saying, “somebody now has a water buffalo thanks to you!” or something to that extent. Heifer makes cards available. I liked making my own. (They call it “fun fur” because it’s a lot of fun. Though do be careful with the glue.)

You’d think that whole process in and of itself would be a laudable thing, but the extra beauty embedded in Heifer’s model is something called “passing on the gift.” For every animal received, it is part of the Heifer contract that the first offspring of an animal be given to someone else as a gift, and that person’s animal’s first offspring after that, and so on. Heifer partners with a community project officially for several years, helping and monitoring to make sure everything is going smoothly, and during that time they track the gifts that are passed during the course of the project, which are numerous. There are even official “Passing on the Gift” ceremonies that communities hold. But if a community stays true to the spirit of the gift over time, the initial project can birth generations of gifts—gifts that simply can’t be tracked forever on hard copy spreadsheets. If that spirit is passed on, the gifts just keep giving.

For me, this embodies the spirit and process of giving—the act of caring for a person, understanding what they desire and/or need, giving what you hope will bring them true joy—and then letting go of your own expectations of thanks or results. Who knows what the ripples will be?

These kinds of gifts—not just Heifer gifts, but any gifts given in this spirit—well, those are worth staying awake for through the holidays.

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Categories: In the Lexicon, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Dare: I Gave, I Give, I Keep Giving

  1. Pingback: Blog Action Day 2012: Heifer International #PowerOfWe - Heifer BlogHeifer Blog

  2. Thanks for highlighting Heifer’s work in such a unique and thoughtful way!

  3. Will B

    Interestingly, your post coincided with my recently learning several things about altruism, so I’ve been thinking about your post for awhile and the elements of “dare” and “passing it on.”

    The thing that has principally directed my train of thought was my learning of the “Price Equation”: a mathematical formula published in 1973 that explains how any evolutionary development gets “selected” (as in “natural selection”) to be passed to other generations. One of the implications of the formula is that the ripples of altruism are the protection and propagation of our own genetic code or those of relatives. As the magazine “The Economist” described it, the author, George Price, “was able to describe populations in which kindness was widespread, everyone benefited and altruism was passed down the generations, and other, more brutal worlds, where charity was abused and kindness died out.” There is certainly a “dare” factor when we try to be altruistic in a brutal world.

    An easy example of where altruism would benefit the propagation of the altruist’s genetic code is a bee hive, where the workers sacrifice their fertility, freedom, and even their lives to protect their mother, the queen, who can then continue to produce offspring.

    In other words, Price’s formula attempted to show that altruism is based on genetic selfishness.

    The author, George Price, was a polymath, eccentric genius, and a real-life Forrest Gump involved with the biggest scientific achievements of three decades. He also did research at the U of M for awhile. It was in London that he developed his formula. Just prior to publishing it, Price (a life-long atheist) converted to Christianity after a religious experience. Although he went on to publish his findings, he apparently came to see his formula as a challenge to his faith. As a recent biography put it *:

    “[Price] eventually abandoned biblical scholarship and had a second conversion. If his mind did not get him any closer to God, maybe his heart would. Price embarked on a project of radical altruism, spending much of his time helping London’s down trodden in anyway that he could, from lending money, to cleaning someone’s apartment, to offering up his house. …Price’s equation may have played some role in his second conversion. …What he found may have deeply upset him. The Price equation shows how the evolution of altruism and the ‘struggle for existence’ are two faces of the same evolutionary process: Altruism at one level implies competition at a higher level. Price could not accept such a world.”

    Price was under psychiatric care for the last few years of his life and had a medical condition that disposed him to depression and hallucinations (he claimed to have direct communication with God). Because of his extreme devotion to others, Price ended up jobless, penniless, and homeless. He committed suicide in 1975. He left no explanation. His friends believed his despair was due to his being unable to help others anymore.

    Although George Price may have died for his belief that altruism has only a spiritual source, I think the idea behind his formula (and a logical extension of it) can convince others to become altruistic, both as individuals and as societies, that is consistent with any spirituality’s idea of charity.

    Consider the post-WWII Marshall Plan, the donation by the United States of $13 billion (over $130 billion in today’s dollars) to help Europe rebuild itself. Behind its conception were the lessons from Germany after the First World War, where the former enemy was not only unaided in rebuilding itself, but crippled with extreme reparation payments. That environment led to the rise of the Nazis. After the Second World War, the fear was that the same situation in Europe would give rise to communist dictatorships. The Marshall Plan was generosity in the interest of the United States. The well-being of others promoted our own security. Part of the plan was “passing on the gift”: the countries receiving aid did not need to pay it back to the U.S., but they did have to pay into a fund in their own country to make additional aid available to their citizens.

    It is for that same reason that Heifer International is in our own Minnesotan best interest: if people are free from want and motivated to be generous to others, the world will be a more peaceful place. When that is realized by a society, altruism will propagate, I believe. That can only be a good thing for everyone concerned, regardless of any faith or formula that moves people to action.

    The book I quoted from is below. I found Price and his work so fascinating, I’ve ordered the book:

    * The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness. By Oren Harman.

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