The Wonder of a Giving Heart

“Give, give, give—what is the point of having experience, knowledge or talent if I don’t give it away? Of having stories if I don’t tell them to others? Of having wealth if I don’t share it? I don’t intend to be cremated with any of it! It is in giving that I connect with others, with the world and with the divine.” ~Isabel Allende

True kindness is rooted in a sense of abundanceWe all know people who withhold their gifts. For whatever reason, they choose not to share a favorite recipe, contribute their expertise, bestow a compliment … or extend a kindness. Too often, they die with the gift they were meant to offer locked away in a drawer or clutched tightly in their fist.

Such miserliness may come from a sense that our talents will not be fully appreciated or compensated. So we hold back, waiting for just the right time—which never comes. Or maybe our offering isn’t perfect yet—thus, we hesitate and wait, afraid to admit our imperfection, or see the trap that’s always shrouded within the illusion of perfection. Still others of us were raised to have a sense of scarcity: if I give what I have, there will be less for me. I must hoard my treasures, otherwise I will somehow be diminished.

It took me a while to learn that this isn’t how life works.

Recently, I was invited to share my thoughts about kindness to a couple of hundred people via Zoom. It was lovely to see so many people who were devoting a part of their day to explore giving and spreading kindness. I was preaching to the choir.

During the Q&A session, one woman raised her virtual hand and bravely asked, “How do I know if someone deserves my kindness?” It’s a question I’ve heard many times.

My answer is always pretty much the same: we don’t extend kindness because of who the other person is, but who we are. If we aspire to be kind, we practice kindness. If we want to see more kindness in the world, we model kindness and hope others will be inspired to behave similarly.

It’s easy for me to say, but I know it isn’t always easy to do. When our buttons are pushed, we often respond instinctively by pushing back, and later realize we sank to the button-pusher’s level. That serves no one, and only shows the BP that others are as odious as he is.

When the person we’re interacting with is a genuine jerk—a liar, a scoundrel, a puppy swindler—we have choices. We understand that being kind does not confer endorsement, nor should it allow disrespect. When we are faced with a true, unrepentant jackass, we know we’re not going to change him … but we mustn’t let him change us. And we always have the choice of not responding, not interacting—sometimes that’s the kindest thing we can do for ourselves.

There are those who mistakenly assume that kind people are pushovers, people to be taken advantage of, saps. Nothing could be further from the truth. Think about how much strength it takes to respond with kindness and calm when face-to-face with rudeness and disrespect. Think of how much courage it takes to stand up for someone who is being bullied or belittled. It’s a strength those bullies and belittlers have yet to understand. Perhaps they never will, but others will. Bystanders, witnesses, victims . . . they see the power of kindness and often step up to it themselves.

Extending abundant kindness, like offering love, creates no scarcity. It just enlarges the world’s capacity to hold more kindness. What we withhold—whether our compassion, our talents, or our knowledge—is lost to the world if we don’t give it. While we wait for just the right moment, just the right place, just the right person, our gift withers from disuse. The Dalai Lama tells us that sharing our knowledge is a way of achieving immortality.

This is one of our biggest challenges as humans—and also one of our biggest achievements: learning to give our best when it’s hard and giving without thought of getting something in return. Because those are the times it matters most—that’s when we change, and in changing ourselves, we change the world.

“The song I came to sing remains unsung…. I have spent my days stringing
and unstringing my instrument. ~
Rabindranath Tagore

17 thoughts on “The Wonder of a Giving Heart

  1. Like you I eventually figured out that unkind people are unable to be kind to others because they can’t be kind to themselves. I can’t fix them, but I can understand them– and maybe that’s enough?

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