We’ve all heard the adage that it’s better to give than to receive. My question is: Why? We’ve learned to expect gifts on our birthdays, on special occasions such as graduation, confirmation or bar mitzvah, and on Christmas, Hanukkah or other holidays. And we feel pretty good to get those gifts, don’t we? So who in his right mind would think it better to give than to receive?
When I graduated from Bishop Ryan High School (in nineteen hundred something), I was third in my class, which can’t be a boast, since third barely qualifies as an also-ran. To celebrate my achievement, the principal honored me with a religious medal and a small hardcover book titled “I Dare You” by William H. Danforth.
As an 18-year-old, I had never heard of Danforth. The book said that he was founder of the Purina Co., a boast that made no special impression on me. However, I started to read the book anyway and learned quickly that it was a guide for self-improvement.
In his spiel, Danforth talks about a four-square philosophy. If we are to be well-rounded individuals, we have a personal obligation to nurture ourselves in four specific ways – physically, intellectually, socially and spiritually. While discussing approaches to developing these four dimensions, he touches on something that struck me as an odd slant on the idea of giving, what he calls “life’s great principle.”
He says, “Our most valuable possessions are those which can be shared without lessening; those which when shared multiply. Our least valuable possessions are those which when divided diminish.” It’s not difficult to know what he means. When we share concrete things, such as money or physical possessions or anything we can hold in our hands, their very depletion suggests they should be secondary in our lives. On the other hand, intangible things, such as time, friendship and love, are more important because they actually increase when we “give” them away.
Sure, food, clothing, money and the like contribute substantially to our lives, but they have no value in themselves, which means that we have no need to hoard them, to hold onto them. Parting with them should be as easy as parting our hair. However, when we share time, friendship and love, their value is infinite because we sense a fulfillment that enlarges the act beyond itself.
I had never thought about giving by considering the nature of the thing that was given. Some time ago, my first attempt at volunteering was to read for the blind through the Niagara Frontier Radio Reading Service. What I thought would be an inconvenience quickly turned into an obsession. I treasured the time I devoted to this program, and I noticed that many of the other readers felt the same way. Since then, I’ve volunteered for other community and college services, endeavors that brought immeasurable rewards by way of appreciation from the receivers of my efforts.
So I became a believer in the Danforth axiom. Money and physical possessions have limited importance and should be shared easily when it’s for a worthwhile purpose. Giving of ourselves, however, merits the greater rewards because such altruistic acts contribute to the comfort of others while boosting our self-esteem and our sense of fellowship.
The act of giving, then, is better than the act of receiving because its value is multiplied well beyond the act itself.