Gratitude in Giving 1

Generating Gratitude Series: Part 2.1

Most of us were raised to say please when asking for something and thank you when we receive it.  But how many of us are taught to say thank you when giving to someone else?  Feeling thankful in giving is a new concept I’m considering in this part of the series and, as always, this is a learning opportunity for me as well.

Once again, I will infuse a bit of my not-so-pretty truth:  I am generally not a grateful giver.  What exactly does this mean?  It means I oftentimes give out of obligation.  I give out of guilt.  Giving out of obligation and guilt means I give with resentment.  And giving with resentment leaves me feeling that each act is one that takes away from already-exhausted me.  I then end up feeling guilty for feeling this way and the unhealthy cycle of resentment and guilt continues with a benefit to no one - least of which is me.

I started the Generating Gratitude series with the goal of developing ways to generate energy (through gratitude) specifically in the ugly times.  And so, even though my points can be made for any situation, I focus here on giving when giving is the hardest thing for us to do. 

To do so, I have decided to illustrate three different giving scenarios with three personal stories and due to their size, I will break them into three separate posts over several days.

Giving Money

I grew up in a rural, middle-class, blue-collar town where cows were as common as cars in the city.  As a child, I never knew how much money we had, but generally felt we struggled (as did many families).  We weren’t poor, but we were far from rich and, while we always had food on the table and clothes on our backs, it's safe to say there wasn’t much left to give away.

As a young adult, I spent plenty of my own times with little to give and, no matter how much time passes, I always fear and feel that the other shoe will drop, that we are one life crisis away from destruction and poverty.  It’s a fear so deeply-ro0ted that I rarely realize its existence.  Until recently…

Working in the city and using public transportation, there is always a variety of things to see with a varied mix of people and no matter which street you are on, you can generally always find someone asking for money. 

I vividly recall my very first naive experience with this when I started working downtown.  At just 20-years-old, my rural-town-self had never experienced homelessness, nor had I encountered anyone on the street asking for money.  My exposure had been limited to anything I may have seen on television. 

One particular day after work, as I was driving through a small tunnel-like overpass, I noticed a homeless man lying on the side of the road.  I was stunned and saddened and immediately felt I single-handedly had the power to change his life.  I stopped my car in the middle of traffic, ran over to the man, and gave him the $20.00 I had in my wallet.  I think he thanked me, but most likely he was also thinking “lady, you’re going to get yourself killed.” 

I ran back to my car and drove home all happy in my self-righteousness, feeling powerful that I had just saved a man with my 20 bucks.  (I did mention naive, right?)

As we tend to do, I became accustomed to this in the city and my response to it grew downright dismissive.  

Recently, however, I had a different experience that forced me to reevaluate my perception.  One day after work, I entered the T station to wait for my ride home and as I was standing in a group of people, a woman with a walker comes from around the bend and heads straight for me. 

“Do you have $2.00 so I can ride the T?” She says.

My judgmental side came into play as quickly as an inborn instinct and my thoughts went something like this:

 “This woman is at a T station; who comes to a T station without money to ride the T and then begs people for it?!” 

Shortly, my mouth followed suit with my mind: 

“No.  Sorry, I don’t.” I replied. 

I hadn’t even truly considered if I had the money and shortly after, realized I had exactly $2.00 in my wallet - just enough to cover her ride. 

She continues on to the next person who follows the same script as me, and then the next person, until she finally comes to a woman with enough awareness of her own judgment to try on something different. 

Although clearly annoyed by the request, this woman asked where she was going, retrieved money from her bag, and simply said:

                “I can get you that far.”

In this moment, I was so far removed from my hopeful 20-year-old-self that I had all but forgotten she ever existed...until shame washed over me like a hot morning shower.  I stood wishing I could turn back the clock and give that woman every penny in my possession. 

What was the difference in my two responses?  How did each response impact not only the recipient, but also me?

The younger version of me gave with spirit.  I gave with hope, excitement, and gratitude that I had been given enough to give back.  Despite the fact that I actually had much less to give at that time, I gave everything in my wallet and went home completely energized, full of excitement and hope for what kind of difference I could make in the world.  Naive or not, my spirit-filled and grateful giving had a very real positive impact on me.

The older, more cynical version felt annoyed by someone asking for me to give.  I responded from a place of judgment and exhaustion, from a place of selfishness and entitlement.  The result was shame, guilt, and regret.

While I am not suggesting we give to every person who asks (we all need to have our own boundaries), what I am suggesting is that there is a very real opportunity for giving back to feel like much-needed fuel to our soul rather than another drain of it.  That day, I thought I was protecting myself, protecting the very small bit of energy I had left in my day.  Instead, I managed to drain it and, unlike that day so many years ago, went home regretful and even more tired. 

If I had only taken a moment to check-in with my spirit and listen to my true self, I could have left the situation with a renewed sense of energy.  If I had taken a second to feel and express gratitude for the opportunity to help another human, I would have left hopeful.  When we practice Gratitude and Giving, the difference we make is not just for one, but is multiplied by 2.

So what if you are the person who needs to ask for help?  How do you give when you are the one who doesn’t have $2.00 for a ride home? 

Stay tuned for my next post.