In this digital, socially-networked age, giving has become remarkably easy and convenient. Just click, and we’ve made a contribution we can feel good about.
There are plenty of other easy (and fun) ways to feel good about giving, too – from participating in raffles and golf tournaments to running a 5K or selling bracelets made by women in developing countries. Thanks to this, the spirit of giving and giving back has become an integral part of life here in the U.S. and in other lucky parts of the world. In fact, “giving” and “giving back” are now buzzwords we toss around regularly.
Understanding is an important part of actually making the world a better place. For only through understanding discomfort, by experiencing it ourselves, can we fully engage in the process of fomenting change. Fully engaging makes all the difference between truly giving and merely going through the motions.
Enter selfless giving. This conscious, intentional approach to giving allows us to do things for others and our community that not only help and make a contribution, but also force us to push the boundaries of our comfort zone – thus experiencing a twinge of discomfort ourselves.
For example, in donating clothing, many of us are likely to sort through our closets and pick from a pile of old, discarded, worn-out garments that have no meaning to us anymore. Giving these garments away requires as little thought and as little emotion as dumping them in the trash. So have we truly been intentional and engaged in the process, or was it simply a convenience to our self?
But what if instead of those old threadbare jeans we haven’t worn since ‘08 we were to pull a brand new pair from our closet to give away? A pair we’d been looking forward to wearing next Saturday night?
That would be a little uncomfortable. And it would be a true act of giving, for we would have given something up.
The gesture would be far more meaningful than giving away things that have lost their importance. It would also imply that those in need would receive a better product – something that would theoretically last longer and provide more value.
Stretching ourselves to lend a hand in situations that might feel awkward and unfamiliar is an exercise whose impact sticks. Doing so not only provides invaluable service to others, but also forces each of us to dig deep, look inside and evaluate what level of giving is, subjectively, truly selfless.
With so many struggles at our doorsteps and throughout the world juxtaposed by such immense privilege, engaging in selfless giving seems like one small but significant way to help bridge the gap.
Formerly a Detroit high school English and speech teacher, Sarah Salow is executive director of the nonprofit outdoor recreation and conference facility, Echo Center, based in Stockbridge, Michigan, which offers arts and crafts, rope courses, ziplines and rappelling walls, with entry fees on a sliding scale so visitors can pay what they are able.
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