When Giving Is Especially Beautiful

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As I write this, two powerful cultural forces are pulling against one another. We’ve just enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday and its consumeristic cousin, Black Friday, and we’re about to enter the unfortunately named Cyber Monday. Evidently as a counterbalance to such rampant consumption, the following day we’re asked to celebrate Giving Tuesday. On what looks like the movement’s official website, you’ll find this introduction:

We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.

This is a powerful sentiment, and one that no doubt resonates with many:  according to the National Philanthropic Trust Americans gave a record-breaking $335.17 billion in 2013, a 4.4% increase from 2011.

Our culture’s penchant for donating to religious, educational, and human service organizations charities is remarkable and worth celebrating.

As we approach Giving Tuesday, I find myself considering another more intimate, and I’d argue, beautiful form of giving.  A type and quality of giving that shares the attributes of beauty that we explored earlier.  The kind of giving I’ve been thinking about lately is like donating to charity in that it’s valued for its own sake and maintains it’s own merit. Yet unlike donating, the giving in my mind is best experienced in direct, unmediated fashion. And because it’s experienced directly, this giving is often savored, for it creates stronger, more enduring bonds between giver and receiver. For example, lending your friend a hand in building her shed is likely to deepen your relationship between you (the giver) and her (the receiver); donating money to the William T. Grant Foundation is not.  

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think donating to charity or foundations is a bad idea.  It’s just that I don’t think it wise to limit the broader, more complex meaning of giving to donation.

Thinking about this more direct, interpersonal giving, what if we extended this idea to the development of community? Imagine groups of interdependent people regularly giving and lending one another their skill, their counsel, and their time. Such a giving community, one that engages in dare I say, a true sharing economy certainly wouldn’t rank on any authoritative list of competitive economies. And for me and many others, that’s okay. A vernacular community in which labor, tools, food, and joy are given and shared is one that just might be considered “sustainable”, “livable.”, and “just.” I don’t know about you, but I can live with that.

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