Sep 28, 2009

Giving and Gratitude

September 27/2009

The hardest thing to do is to give something away. Not on the personal level of letting go; money, things, energy, time, knowledge, but in gaining the respect of the recipient.

The Buddha told that the giver is giving compassion, and that compassion never needs to seek recognition, nor reward. Because that is what true giving and compassion is: Nirvana. It’s the concept of being free from craving, anger and other afflictive states; greed, hatred, and delusion. Being free from suffering. Being a totally free thinker. To not need anything but the basics to live. To give freely without need for something in return; not even a thank you.

Therefore, we shouldn’t be looking for respect, right?

I was always taught that when receiving a gift, to always acknowledge, thank and respect whomever was being gracious enough to give me something. For that is the least I could do. But for someone to give something to you in kindness - gifts or pleasure without the need for gratification - seems truly selfless. This is the hardest thing to master within oneself. Because it is natural to want gratification, quid pro quo or at least a simple thank you. And if we don’t receive what we consider the right acknowledgement, we want to teach the one receiving to be more gracious.

When I was a kid, my mother wasn’t financially very well off. I remember we were invited to a cousin’s birthday party and she had bought a small gift for me to give to my cousin. After receiving really great gifts from other people, it was time for me to give this tiny gift, a toy car, to my cousin. The look on his face was precious. “Well, I don’t like that,” he told me. He must have been about five or six years old. I was about eight.

I think I learned much more from that exchange than he did. I learned humiliation, then humility. Since then, there have been many times in my life when I have been humbled and my way of thinking has been challenged. I don’t feel as much humiliation any more.

But this lack of grace exists everywhere. During the past few years, I had the opportunity of working with charity organizations in and around the Los Angeles area. I was astounded when I would hear CEOs, and other fundraisers scoff at the amount of money being given by philanthropists. “Is that all,” they would say. “They could give us much more than that.” Where, I ask, was the graciousness of the receiver for the gift, no matter how large or small the donation?

We tend to look down on people whose grace is lacking. And for some charities, a fundraiser’s attitude and the way they do or do not express gratitude, makes the difference in whether the philanthropist will ever donate to the same organization again.

In Jewish Tradition the Talmud insists that the contribution to the centralized fund is the highest form of Tzedakah or charity, for it is the best way of ensuring the anonymity of both donor and recipient. Therefore gratitude to the giver is never in question.

The laws of Karma tell: You can’t give anything away because it will come back to you in the form of energy. So we really don’t need the gratitude of others. It is a given.

Somehow we must take our bruised egos out of the equation if we are ever able to understand true compassion. We must become aware of another’s innocent ignorance of gratitude. Perhaps they haven’t been taught to be thankful. We need to be understanding and compassionate toward the other person’s lack of grace. Because we are also supposed to be giving of our tolerance, our open-mindedness and our receptiveness to learning from others.

The Dalai Lama is in Vancouver this week for his 2009 Peace Summit. He teaches kindness and compassionate giving for all. And while his and all great teachings should be good learning for us, I think some of us need to experience life lessons (the school of hard knocks) and develop our own moral judgments and moral humility before we can become truly compassionate. With this life experience and knowledge gained we will have the tools to be understanding individuals and better givers, whether we reach Nirvana or not.

“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
- Kahlil Gibran

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful.”
- Buddha

“Do not stand on a high pedestal and take 5 cents in your hand and say, "here, my poor man", but be grateful that the poor man is there, so by making a gift to him you are able to help yourself. It is not the reciever that is blessed, but it is the giver. Be thankful that you are allowed to exercise your power of benevolence and mercy in the world, and thus become pure and perfect.”
- Swami Vivekananda

"We do not quite forgive a giver. The hand that feeds us is in some danger of being bitten."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson