Philanthropy in the broader sense – a source of renewal and meaning

Bruno Bettelheim was a Holocaust survivor who achieved fame and fortune through his work as a child psychologist. The opening line in his book The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (Penguin Psychology) is:

“If we hope to live not just from moment to moment, but in true consciousness of our existence, then our greatest need and most difficult achievement is to find meaning in our lives.”

One of our major lessons in life is the realization that the search for meaning does not fully end until we take our last breath. And what gives a life meaning often changes according to the different stages of life.

When we are young, we have dreams often formed by what we have read or actually experienced – finding the right partner, having a family, building a nest egg, thriving in our careers, creating wealth, and preparing for retirement. Over the past years, the obsession of wealth and power became viral for so many. The technology boom, the hedge fund phenomenon, the rampant growth of the stock market, real estate development and health insurance companies’ monopolies – gave many exponential opportunities to create wealth and establish a ‘power base’ from this wealth. Who knew whom, who bought whom, who went public, who got a second round of funding, who bought another house (and where) were the subjects of conversation and priority.

How fleeting are these mirages of security and self-defined meaning.

Paradoxically, this past week there have been many articles surfacing about thrift, frugality, protection of savings and giving back. In fact, the front cover of TIME magazine was all about the changes of habits, the projection of where our culture is heading, what we really value, and what gives us meaning.

In most cases, this change was certainly not a choice of ours – yet forced upon us by reality and necessity (the mother of all invention). Through the pressures of our economy, we are being forced to re-evaluate – where we spend our money and our time, as well as what we really value and what truly brings us meaning.

Refreshingly, for many movers and shakers, success is no longer measured by the number of zeros in our net worth. For others, the responsibility of ‘cutting back’ and ‘giving back’ is candidly a gnawing, resent-filled itch of our conscious. One more ‘to do’ that often falls off the plate of priority.

To quote Anne Lamott (a favorite author of mine): “We are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world.” Meaning our intentions begin pure, yet, we are faced with the difficult challenges of an imperfect world.

How true is that? We have our dark days, the storms of our lives. Our ‘Good Fridays.’ We are entombed by our own shackles of false expectations, comparisons to others, recession realities, lust for wealth and power, and fear of failure.

So, during this ‘Easter time’ (it literally is still the Easter season for Anglican and Catholics), and the renewals of spring, I want to offer one small, yet potentially forcible change of perspective.

What if we changed our attitudes about helping others, through our gifts of our time, talents and treasures? What would happen?

In a blog earlier this year, I talked about sacred responsibilities, and many of you responded (online and by email) on how this hit a chord. You said that our intentions are often there, yet we don’t have the time because of the growing pressures of just getting ends to meet and manage the pressures of our hectic daily lives. I know. I get it. Yet, what if we could adopt one tiny change in our daily lives which would undoubtedly have a profound ripple effect not only for those with which we work and interact, but on us as well? Would you do it?

Well, here it is: I have had the fortune of meeting someone in the Georgetown program in which I am participating, who leads an organization called Generosity Path, which sheds a new perspective on philanthropy. He guides individuals in the opportunities in personal and spiritual growth found through generosity. The one simple question to us is this: What is the most generous response I can make? (In work, family, life.)

The reason this hits home for me is that it is simple in concept yet profound in effect.

At this point, many of you are asking what in the world this has to do with achieving professional excellence or moving up the ladder or attaining alignment? Think about it. How do any of us respond when others treat us with generosity of any kind? It makes all the difference. It’s an unexpected gift that can keep on giving for days.

  • taking the time to listen to a fellow employee,
  • lending a hand to a grocery clerk,
  • showing empathy to an office worker facing a deadline with fewer resources,
  • saying hello or a nice greeting to the postal clerk or UPS or FedEx person when you accept that package,
  • taking the paper to an elderly neighbor or planting flowers or picking up something at the grocery store when you go,
  • letting a car pass in a crowded parking lot,
  • smiling at someone as you pass by them on the sidewalk,
  • making a less than satisfied client/customer satisfied through some generous gesture on your part,
  • volunteering for an hour a week at a charity of your choice
  • sending a thank you card to your child’s teacher, a mentor or friend
  • enter to walk a 5K and take you child (or family) with you
  • when purchasing a buy one, get one free at the grocery store, set that extra one in a bag for your local food bank or maybe that good friend who lost their job (or anonymously give it to your church to give to a family)

These are small MANAGEABLE acts. Yet, when given with a generous spirit can have profound affects in our world and in our lives.

Growing up, philanthropy was always a big deal in my family. My folks instilled in my sister and me the importance of giving back – even today they continue to set fine examples of giving back with their time and their treasures – at ages 79 and 80. Over the years, I found joy being involved in Ronald McDonald House, Genesis Womens’ Shelter, and the Susan G. Koman Foundation. Each of these had purposes that resonated with me. This year I am co-chairing a large event which will benefit eight incredible agencies in the Dallas/Fort Worth area ranging from the Turner Twelve to Camp C.O.P.E..

I’m not a whiner, but honestly there are days that I simply don’t know how I can juggle one more mailing, one more phone call, one more solicitation request. Then I think of the individuals, young and old, whose lives may be a little better due to that one phone call made and it offers me the perspective that makes it all worthwhile. It is  fuel for the soul – the energy source on a dark day. When other aspects of our lives are not performing on all cylinders, giving back will always bring meaning – on many levels.

I debated about writing this blog. As I have often wondered about those that promote their philanthropic endeavors on their websites (are they trying to look good in the eyes of others or what?). So, I decided to offer this perspective – as just that – a perspective on the benefits of philanthropy and generosity in our lives. My purpose and intention is to shine the light on the beneficiaries and the benefits of giving back, in general.

When aspects in our lives look bleak, and many of us do face hardships and uncertain directions today; giving back can offer new lenses through which to view the situation.

Spring is indeed a time of renewal. Renewing our consciousness of when and how we give of our time, our talents, and our treasures can bring meaning and purpose. And through giving in generous spirit, a renewed source of energy is created; to this I can attest and guarantee.

As Sir WInston Churchill so famously said: “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”

Now, is a perfect time to begin.