A friend of mine asked on FB, the other day, how she could teach her kids about “giving.” They seemed to be going through an “I want everything!” phase, as she put it. So, she wondered how she might instill in them a desire and understanding of how important it is to give to others and the joy that comes from such giving. Her idea was to take them each to the store to buy gifts for each other, but wondered whether this would simply lead to more presents under the tree. This raised a very important question, which led me to conclude, after much thought, that the ways we often try to teach our children about “giving” have actually led, in part, to the current problems we, as a society, are facing.
What is “giving”? What does it truly mean to “give” to someone else?
To start…”Giving” involves sacrifice. It’s true that you can give something to someone else that doesn’t belong to you, but that doesn’t invoke the spirit of giving and, therefore, does not produce the joy that results from giving from your heart. In fact, giving something that doesn’t belong to you isn’t really “giving” at all…it’s stealing (even if it’s just the credit)! If you haven’t lost anything, what have you given?
When you sacrifice something in order to “give” to others, there is a natural, good feeling that you get from placing another person’s needs before your own desires. This is what’s meant by the phrase, “The joy of giving”…The joy that comes from being able to make someone else smile, from knowing that someone else’s day was made just a little bit brighter, because of you. Without this intrinsic reward, “giving” really just becomes a chore, something we do because we think we should.
I think it’s fair to say that this is what modern-day giving has become to many people in our society. And this comes into play in a big way in our current politics and economic crises. We, as Americans, have allowed the politicians to turn “giving” into a necessity, or right, rather than a desire, or “gift.” The result is that we’re constantly bombarded, from all directions, with opinions about what we should be giving, and how much, and to whom. Rather than making these decisions on our own and taking responsibility for “giving” to each other, we have allowed ourselves to be convinced that it’s somehow more fair to have the government do the giving on our behalf. The problem is, many of us, who take credit for the giving, aren’t on the giving end at all, but the receiving end. Somehow, we’ve developed this sense of entitlement that allows us to feel good about taking someone else’s money, because we also gave some of it to other people in need. Even if we’re not on the receiving end, we have this selfish side that says, “It’s not fair that I should give my money if others don’t give theirs, as well.” But taking someone else’s money through force deprives them of the ability to experience the joy that comes from “giving” of their own accord. This picture of fairness and equality that’s been painted over the years by our politicians fails to take into account the many intricacies of life. That’s because the government has such a narrow view of “giving” that it only takes into account monetary value. But money isn’t everything, and everyone in society has something to give. (We have no problem with the government forcing someone with excess money to give that money to the government. But how would we feel about the government forcing someone with excess time to give that time to the government? That, my friends, would be called “slavery!”)
So, how did we get to where we are today and how do we teach our children about true “giving?”
Let’s revisit the scenario above to see how we may have learned about “giving” from our parents. When a parent takes their child to the store to buy a gift for a sibling, what has that child “given” to the other? The money to buy the gift came from mom and dad’s pocket. The lesson learned is that it doesn’t matter who paid for it…But it does. From a very young age, we are taught that giving from someone else’s efforts is a valid form of “giving”…But it’s not. All that we’ve accomplished is that the parents have bought their children an additional gift, but allowed the other child to pick it out. That’s not “giving.”
There are lots of different ways to give, but the two primary means are money or time. As the saying goes, “Time is money.” So whether we give one or the other, we accomplish the same result. It’s easy to take from others, but doesn’t produce the same feeling that comes from giving of ourselves.
If you really want to teach your children about giving, have them purchase their Christmas gifts with their allowance money…or let them pick out something they REALLY want, pay for it, then have them drop it the Toys for Tots bin…or sign up at your local soup kitchen or homeless shelter to serve food on Christmas day…or encourage them to make gifts for their siblings and friends…or have them each pick out one gift they receive on Christmas morning to donate to a local children’s charity. There are lots of creative ways that you can teach your children about giving. Each child is unique. So, use your judgment to determine what would constitute a sacrifice for your child and make sure they get a chance to see/understand how their “giving” helped another person. That is the true joy of giving.