Skip to main content

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.

Popular posts from this blog

Inward Journey and Outward Pilgrimage

There are so many different ways to think about the spiritual life.And of course, in our country there are so many different variations of religious experiences.There are liberals and conservatives.There are fundamentalists and Pentecostals.Besides the dizzying variety of Christian traditions, there are many different non-Christian traditions.There are the major traditions, such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so on.There are the slightly more obscure traditions, such as Sikhism, Jainism, etc.And then there are more fringe groups and, even, pseudo-religions. There are defining doctrines and religious practices.Some of these are specific to a particular tradition or a few traditions, such as the koan, which is used in Zen Buddhism for example.Other defining doctrines or practices are common across the religious board.Something like meditation would be a good example.Christians meditate; Buddhists meditate.And other groups practice this spiritual discipline. A favorite way I like to …

A Pain is not a Pain

A rose may be a rose, but a pain is not a pain.  Maybe somebody has said that before, but I have never heard it.  So I am assuming (for the moment) I made it up.  Of course, most of us have heard that line, “a rose is a rose.”  I don’t know who said it first or if I should give it a footnote, but I do know that I did not create that line.  Furthermore, we all could explain what the phrase, a rose is a rose, means.

However, if I say, “a pain is not a pain,” the reader may not be too sure what I mean by that.  And if the reader is unsure, he or she does not know whether to agree with me or say balderdash!  So let me explain it by some development.

For sure, every adult knows what pain means.  It is difficult to imagine living into adulthood and not experiencing some kind of pain.  There is physical pain; we all know this.  There is emotional pain----a pain many people know all too well…and others may barely know.  There may be something like spiritual pain, but this one is tricky.  Not …

Spiritual Commitment

I was reading along in a very nice little book and hit these lines about commitment.The author, Mitch Albom, uses the voice of one of the main characters of his nonfiction book about faith to reflect on commitment.The voice belongs to Albom’s old rabbi of the Jewish synagogue where he went until his college days.The old rabbi, Albert Lewis, says “the word ‘commitment’ has lost its meaning.”
The rabbi continues in a way that surely would have many people saying, “Amen!”About commitment he says, “I’m old enough when it used to be a positive.A committed person was someone to be admired.He was loyal and steady.Now a commitment is something you avoid.You don’t want to tie yourself down.”I also think I am old enough to know that commitment was usually a positive word.I can think of a range of situations in which commitment would have been seen to be positive.
For example, growing up was full of sports for me.Commitment would have been presupposed to be part of a team. If you were going to pl…