Giving: Recipe for Spiritual Growth


Recently I saw an article in the local newspaper that presented some material with which I am familiar.  But it presented the material in an interesting way with a catchy title.  The title boldly proclaimed, “Nice Guys Finish First.”  When I saw the title, I did not immediately conclude I would know the gist of the article.  The article appeared in the Business Section, a place I do not normally assume I am going to get spiritual inspiration!

I realized quickly that the article had something to do with organizational theory.  And within a few sentences I knew the focus was on the work being done by Adam Grant, the young, popular professor of organizational psychology at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.  This is one of the most prestigious business schools in the world.  In effect, Grant is one of the current “whiz kids” in business circles.  The book that put him in this elite circle is entitled, Give and Take.  It is a book with which I am familiar and am familiar with the major points.

Essentially, Grant divides people into three basic types: Takers, Matchers and Givers.  These are fairly easy to define.  The newspaper article defined the taker as people who “are selfish folk who always have a sharky angle and forever put their personal interests ahead of everybody else’s.”  All of us should claim we have known a few of these folks in our lifetimes!  And probably, most of us would claim we have never been one of these kinds of people.

The largest group of us Grant calls Matchers.  These are the people who “view the world in terms of fairness and balanced ledgers---I scratch your back, with the unstated but firm understanding that at some point you will scratch mine.”  And then, there are the Givers.  The Givers “perform all sorts of selfless acts with not expectation of reciprocity.”  Grant acknowledges that some givers can become doormats.  But this is usually the person who gives for the wrong reasons.

Givers can become significant winners, according to Grant.  To understand this, we can cite one more sentence.  “…with broad and efficiently concentrated giving, you reach…a tipping point at which your reputation as a giver and your accumulation of grateful pals grows to the point that positive effects ensue.”  For the most part, Grant has in mind giving frequently and widely, but giving in mostly small, helpful ways.  Again, it is the little things in life.  Givers know this and act it out.

While there is nothing inherently spiritual in this, it can be linked easily with the spiritual dimension.  In fact, giving is one of the key ways I would talk about the Spirit---the Spirit of the Holy One, as I understand it.  Personally, I would identify a key quality of the Holy One as Giver.  God is the Giver of life itself.  God is also the God of grace.  Grace is simply the spiritual word for “gift.”

Having said this about the Holy One, I would next suggest that those spiritual giants who have dedicated their lives to incarnating the truths of God into human form do the same.  When I think of Jesus or the Buddha, when we think of Muhammed and others more contemporary, I see people whose lives were dedicated to people. These are spiritual leaders who were committed to lives of compassionate living.  They were Givers, not Takers.

Those of us who are called to follow suit have the same call.  In the Christian tradition it is called imitatio Christi---the imitation of Christ.  We are called to work for the cause of justice.  We are called to see those in need and be compassionate in our response.  The Taker is driven by his or her own ego---they see themselves as number one.  Often they are after their share…and then some.

The Givers are other-focused.  Jesus and the other giants certainly are not ego-driven.  Living lives of compassion, they are willing to be self-sacrificial.  Neither the Taker nor the Matchers is willing to be sacrificial.  In fact, self-sacrifice only makes sense to one whose makeup is a Giver.  And the Giver does it in such a way he or she is not expecting anything in return.  This is what separates the Giver from the Matcher.

But as so often in the paradoxical spiritual world, frequently the Giver winds up being the winner.  In the real world the Giver might become rich or famous.  But in the spiritual realm the Giver becomes satisfied.  And by being satisfied, he or she is happy and content.  Therein lays the spiritual irony. 

The Giver intends nothing special on his or her own behalf.  And yet, this often opens the door for good things to come his or her way.  The Giver wants to make the other better and better off.  And as a result, things can get better for the Giver.  What a wonderful recipe for spiritual growth.

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