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Giving the benefit of the doubt

This time of year always brings with it an air of giving. As the year comes to a close, there are many traditional holidays celebrated by various cultures, religions, and countries imploring us to contribute or donate gifts of all kinds to simply lift the spirits of others. They need not be family, but anyone who could use a hand or a random act of kindness. This year has also goaded new challenges which put undue burdens on many peoples’ ability to give. Thankfully, giving need not be something tangible, but no matter how small the gift is, the true measure is often the spirit behind the giving.

The “why”

This past week, an aeronautic master and legend of the sky passed away. Pilot Chuck Yeager, the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound, was 97 years old. He was gifted with innate talents impossible to teach in flight schools. His vision was reported to be 20/10 and he could “sense” things about the jets he flew, and his written reports as a test pilot were invaluable to the engineers improving them.

Yeager was a top fighter ace and during World War II, shot down five aircraft in a single mission. On one of his precarious flights, he was shot down behind enemy lines. Yeager, in a rare feat, was able to escape and find his way back to England. But rather than being flown home, he volunteered to return to active duty.

Yet with all his talents and accolades, Yeager never expected anything for his efforts. “You don’t do it to get your damn picture on the front page of the newspaper”, Yeager remarked. You do it because it’s your duty.”

Although his story is a different kind of giving, there was never any expectation of receiving something for his accomplishments. Brigadier General Chuck Yeager‘s actions were the epitome of why we give, and along with his countless accomplishments, his selfless attitude will always be part of that legacy.

There are times when we do give with an expectation of receiving something in return. But those situations typically are more transactional. We give our time at work to collect a paycheck, and sometimes there are preconditions for reimbursement. These are entirely normal but are also not considered to be in the true spirit of giving.

Perhaps the English language needs another word to clarify this distinction. Maybe a combination of the two words “gift” and “giving” or “giftiving” could imply the situation at hand is both a gift and being freely given. Because the act of “giftiving” is one of the rare occasions in which the receiver is unexpectedly delighted and the giver may experience an immeasurable sense of joy.

Karma or not

When a child is given a gift, the surprise expression spread across their face is evidence of their excitement. As adults, we cherish those moments and may even use them to teach our children about the joy of giving to others. However, what we do not expect is for the child to reciprocate and give something back.

Sometimes I wonder how many people believe they are giving altruistically but in the back of their minds, anticipate their actions will bring them more than just the satisfaction of giving. Is there a, “the more you give the more you’ll receive” attitude behind their motives? I am not implying we shouldn’t be mindful of “sowing and reaping” or karma, but if our pretense of giving is receiving something in the future, then how is it really different?

I recently stated in one of my articles how astonished I was when after I purposely gave more, my bank balance grew. The intention, however, was never to build a larger bank account by being more generous to others, although it sincerely was a pleasant surprise.

“Giftiving” always takes a one-sided approach. There is no planning nor plotting to gain more by your efforts. It’s done because it’s the right thing, or as General Yeager proclaimed, “because it’s your duty.”

Gifts are meant to be free and helpful. If the receiver has any inclination to reciprocate, the best way to quell that feeling is to pay it forward to other unsuspecting people.

The end game

2020 has been an indescribable year. Nevertheless, there are lessons we can learn even in the darkest moments. While many of us seek to live life to its fullest and become the best we can be, there are certain responsibilities we all share and no one should neglect if we are to live on a kind and loving planet.

We do have a choice. Although this world was not created specifically for our own personal comfort and gain, we can make choices which center around our materialistic desires while strangling the basic needs of others. We can seize opportunities for monetary gains without the slightest concern for the devastating impacts it will force on the disadvantaged.

My hope is 2020 provided a new and empathetic perspective about your fellow human beings. That your own personal beliefs may be what works for you but may not always be what succeeds for others. And those who have been able to continue some semblance of normalcy, will have a deeper awareness and appreciation for the struggles which others now face.

For those who’ve been fortunate enough to have success, my wish is they will be willing to share their knowledge and secrets to inspire people rather than condemn or attack others. Lastly, if you have always been self-sufficient but this pandemic has robbed you of that ability, do not feel shame if you require help or someone offers it to you.

The world and the rules have changed in 2020. But they were not skewed in any direction except for those who create more caring, kindness, compassion, and of course, “giftiving.”

My thanks to Neil and Zulma Scott on Unsplash for the wonderful picture and I look forward to your thoughts.


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