What motivates us to give?
Giving freely is often tagged as altruism, which Merriam Webster's dictionary defines as the,
"unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others," for example, "charitable acts motivated purely by altruism."
Concerning selfless behaviors across species, psychologists (of the evolutionary biology brand) have attempted to justify these tendencies. A gene family, they posit, is a selfish whole that is greater than the sum of its parts; the individual sacrifices for the benefit of the whole.
In simple terms: Altruism is to give without cause, to lose without gain. But since we as individuals are only a means for the whole, the collective gain outweighs the individual loss. Is this the subconscious anatomy of giving? Perhaps.
Is there a real hierarchy between the giver and receiver?
Judeo-Christian culture has forever esteemed giving; charity as morality par-excellence. The biblical word commonly translated as charity is tzedakah - seh·duh·kuh, translated more accurately as justice.
The more precise definition offers a unique outlook on giving: give and take as the balancing mechanism inherent in the universe and human existence. We all benefit and contribute as a basic living condition. Giving is reframed as an innate justice in the unbiased natural order.
A brief personal reflection will admit that we are status-quo overwhelmingly on the receiving-passive end of the universe and humanity. Ask yourself then, how can I play a more active-mindful role in this cosmic dance?
What is money's role in giving?
Money illustrates for us the essence of giving and receiving. We use money to send, receive, communicate and preserve our value.
"Money is often defined in terms of the three functions or services that it provides. Money serves as a medium of exchange, as a store of value, and as a unit of account." cliffsnotes.com
Money is the tacit language we use to articulate what we value. A healthy society is when the language of currency is mutual. I pay X amount for Y because I agree with its proprietor's valuation.
There are two elements in giving:
- The WHAT: Money.
- The WHY: The implicit value judgment.
How is the fundraiser-donor relationship different than a typical business transaction?
Not all giving is equal. In an ordinary business transaction, the two parties trade, not so unlike trading pokemon cards in the school playground. We both acknowledge the value of our possessions and agree to exchange ownership—causing an unambiguous loss and gain for both parties.
"To give to another, one must make space for the other, which must be within oneself."
Now imagine trying to convince your mate to freely hand over their Pikachu card because you'll put it to better use. Trade is absent from the fundraiser-donor relationship. The fundraiser-donor relationship compels the participants to examine the why (of money) and articulate their values. The fundraiser must present a meaningful vision, and the donor must buy into it. Instead of trading what they hold to be valuable, they partner in a value that supersedes them both.
As a result, although they don't exchange material goods (of the what paradigm), money's unspoken language (our values) finds supreme and explicit expression in the fundraiser-donor relationship.
We humans (like ogres) are like onions; we experience a layered reality. As a rule, we give when we feel that we will benefit somehow, even just to alleviate guilt or a generous disposition. Yet, exceptions exist, and a more profound notion of meaning and purpose rests in the anatomy of giving. Something beyond an instinctual or social construction; the bedrock from which nurture and nature emerge. When we give mindfully, we begin to harness our deepest sense of why and traverse the invisible borders that divide humanity one good deed at a time.
Why do YOU give?
What's your WHY?