Giving with a purpose, generativity, and discovering your natural inclination to give/help others.
Recently I was sitting in a cold, BART station on a colder cement seat next to a woman who was eating from a bag lunch. It had been a long day in San Francisco for me and I was tired and hungry. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that she kept sneaking glances at me-I was just sitting there, still and quiet, waiting for the train. Then she offered me a tiny red box of raisins out of her lunch bag and she said: "You enjoy it but then, you do something for someone else. Okay?" I agreed. She then told me she makes a practice of doing this: I recognized the practice. It's called paying it forward.
Related to The Butterfly Effect, paying it forward is more purposeful. The one who offers the favor expects the receiver to reciprocate with some one else and extracts that promise. It is purposeful passing it on whereas in the butterfly effect, we do kind acts on faith. Paying it forward is an effort to make things different in the world. There is a wonderful film on this topic called Pay It Forward if you are interested in seeing a fictionalized version of how this would actually be acted upon.
The concept of paying it forward is one of many examples of giving with a purpose. Sometimes we give out of obligation-for a birthday or holiday; we may give because it is called for culturally; gifts are sometimes given to grease the wheels of business transactions, or to enhance an apology. There are thank you gifts and gifts of reciprocation. Gifts are a part of many kinds of relationships-between individuals, families, businesses and countries. Nonetheless, a goal is attached, even if it is simply the loving one of seeing happiness in another.
Erik Erikson, who wrote about human beings as continuing to go through developmental stages throughout life,---not just as children, coined the term "generativity". Generativity is one of the characteristics of maturity and usually emerges in late life, according to his observations. This kind of giving, often in the form of charity work, volunteerism, or mentoring, represents the urge on the part of the giver to leave a legacy to the next generation. It is a wish to help younger people and to offer up and pass on what one has learned, in life or in a particular field of specialty.
There is yet another type of giving, one that has no name as far as I know. I researched this idea and didn't find much. It is a recent discovery for me so maybe we are pioneering new territory here---I don't know. If you recognize this, (or even if you don't, maybe you can create a name for it), let me know.
Here's a story about this kind of giving: I have a long-time friend whose husband is very successful in the financial world. I asked him for some help managing my financial matters. This wasn't easy to do because mine are 'small potatoes' in comparison to what he ordinarily deals with (big business clients). However, he readily agreed. When I tried to express my gratitude, he graciously said: "What are friends for?" I have met with him at his office several times now over the course of a few years. When I am there, his entire attention is on me and my matters and his staff is at my disposal; I am treated as if I were no different from his most important client. He has only done a few things for me as I have been reticent, reluctant to impose on such a generous person. But there has never been any sign of limits on his part. He just seems to wait until I ask and then, he helps me.
Because I have felt sort of befuddled about how this was occurring in my life, I have put a lot of thought into it. I remembered that the Chinese culture has a concept about benefactors. The idea is that we each have the possibility of having a benefactor cross our path in life. This would be a person who just, in some way, provides you with something beneficial to you, without remuneration. Sounds like part of an explanation but still...
Then, one day I realized that I do this myself. I'm not referring here to how I might put my heart out to a client in my practice-above and beyond what I am paid to do as my job. I am not talking about what I might do for my child. No, none of that. I am talking about helping because I can. Or helping because I can and I've been asked. Or seeing a need, having the ability to fill that need, and then doing it. This is giving that has no cost: It does not deplete the giver.
People who know me as extended family or as close friends will sometimes come to me with a personal conundrum or even a life crisis. It never occurs to me to not help---I just do it. When I began this blog, I did it because I wanted to offer to the world, what I have learned (and am learning); I wanted to make available to anyone anywhere, who could get to a computer, but did not have access to a private practice therapist, a part of what that experience is. I put a lot of thought and time into these posts and I am not paid anything for this work. Some people in my life have wondered aloud to me why I do that. It's actually quite difficult to explain. I just feel strongly that I want to make this offer. And, so I keep doing it.
So, it seems that some people have this aspect in gear and some don't. (Also, some are doing it but aren't aware, as I was). It would seem a very foreign idea to someone who has not felt the wish to do this. But, those of you who are doing it, will, perhaps recognize what I have described. Do you?