Look down a list of donors and you’ll never be able to figure out the intention behind a donation: who gave expecting something in return – who is keeping a running balance sheet in his head of credits and debits – and who simply gave a gift?
Part of what led me to start my generosity experiment was exhaustion. It was exhausting to have an unspoken scorecard attached to every element of my life. I knew intuitively that I was the one who suffered when I silently kept tabs of every step and every action that I (and others) did and did not take, but I didn’t know how to stop the music. My calculations were automatic and unintentional.
And then it struck me: what better place to start letting go than with giving itself, with actual money, and all the attachment I (we) have to it?
I’ve discovered a few things along the way.
First, it is possible to change this sort of thing. Five years later, I truly am able (not every time, but often) to give unconditionally – not just money but time and attention and complements. Unconditional giving brings me so much more joy, and because the character of these acts is so different they create something categorically different in my life and in the world. My prior “balanced giving scorecard” was mathematically appealing yet fundamentally flawed. It presupposed scarcity of the gifts I had to give, and in so doing it shackled me, the giver, never letting me fully know what abundance feels like.
Second, giving abundantly doesn’t happen every time or at every moment. Old habits die hard, and life is a dance not a set playbook. But having a wider repertoire is liberating.
Third, I think I’ve become a better receiver, meaning I’ve become better at accepting gifts openly and with gratitude, and I’m more comfortable allowing gifts to be gifts. I also have much more appreciation for the truly gracious around me, those who deeply honor the givers around them and who recognize that true giving is not tit-for-tat, it is gifts flowing openly and freely in all directions.
Mostly, I’d like to keep cracking the door open for myself and for others, so that we can all stop giving halfway. There are few things more limiting than a conditional gift, and few things more liberating than even one small act of radical generosity. That means there are no strings attached