Dave puts these podcasts out into the world, and I’m practical enough to understand that he does this both to be generous and as a way of raising his own visibility. At the same time, Dave isn’t asking for anything in return for the 20-30 of his yoga classes of his that I’ve done in the last year, and that’s exactly why I feel like I should give a donation to him or to a charity he supports (and blogging about it is a great way to ensure that I follow through).
I spend a lot of time on this blog encouraging more generosity, and it occurs to me that part of this process has to be me cultivating my own generosity in tangible ways – big and small.
The trick here is the dreaded Free Rider problem. It’s downright irrational to pay for things where you can get the benefit without paying the cost (the classic example is national defense or a clean environment; but you can free ride by not voting in a national election too).
How do we act when no one is looking AND where it makes sense – economically, rationally – to do nothing?
The same question came up today when I went with my family to the Museum of Natural History. The teller told us that the price was $47, and he kept on saying, “But that’s just a suggested admission. How much do you want to pay?” In a situation like that, with the teller essentially saying, “Hey, most everyone pays a lot less than this,” it’s hard not to feel silly saying, “No, I’d rather pay the $47.” And, in all candor, if it hadn’t been for my wife’s encouragement, I’m not sure I would have paid the full “suggested admission” of $47. It felt like a lot of money, and the teller – who was trying to be nice – was encouraging me to take a pass and spend the money on something else.
(footnote: the museum was fabulous. Definitely worth the $47.)
My point is not that I’m some paragon of generosity — it’s something I struggle with as much as anyone. My point is that we’re all have to practice being more generous, especially in situations where it doesn’t make rational sense to do so. Donate or not, I’ll continue to have access to Dave Farmer’s great yoga classes for free; the Museum of Natural History will get most of its funding from corporations and other major donors and doesn’t need my $47; and Barak Obama would have become President even if I hadn’t voted for him.
But if we don’t put our money where our mouth is — if we don’t step up and support things that are good and beautiful and hopeful in the world — we have no right to complain when we treated ungenerously in return.
And, increasingly, I believe that giving, generosity, kindness, forgiveness and hope are, first and foremost, acts of self-expression. And, as we’ll see on January 20th, millions of small acts of self-expression can make historical change in the world.
Enjoy the innaguration.