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The Daily ParadoxLife Purpose

The Daily Paradox: To give or not to give – that is the question

You may think the answer is easy but it isn’t. Those who ‘have’ obviously need to help those who ‘have not’. That idea is the easy part. When, where, how, what and, maybe most importantly, why to give? They are the difficult questions. ‘Give while the spirit moves’ is a fine injunction. Sentiment plays a big part in our giving. The pictures of children starving in Gaza, of homes being destroyed by earthquakes, of people drowning in their attempt to reach a country where they can be safe, of the death of a lovely person – all these rightly inspire us to give what help we can. Mostly that is money.

Not always, and money is not the most valuable thing we can give. Time is our most precious resource. When we share that we give something no amount of money can buy. Ask a lonely person which they would prefer and they will likely say time. If they are very unselfish they may say money – and then give it to someone even more in need than they are. Parents are constantly weighing up the value of time at work to provide money for education, holiday, games and clothes versus time for being there, playing with the children, teaching them the fundamentals of life (so sadly missing today) and just being a Mum and Dad. Giving is not about weight and value but about care and intention.

There are no easy answers but there is one step we can take which makes what we decide to do more likely to succeed. We can think about it. Not so that we all come to the same conclusion. Those who give have rights, too, and one of them is the right to decide all the answers posed at the start of this article. Some people will want those answers to be thoroughly materially rational. Others will, perfectly reasonably, want them to be based on feeling. Either way, and in between, asking and answering the questions will make our gift more worthwhile.

We all frequently receive messages about the need to give. Apart from scams, which we have to watch out for today, they are mostly praiseworthy causes. Some bestow a reward of recognition which is quite acceptable for those who want it. Some receive a transient ‘thank you’ which is functional but not very warming. Some get no response at all or even engender hate in the recipient if they are poor receivers. If that happens the well-adjusted giver will realise that the problem is with the person they have given to, not with themselves as giver.

The question of reward for giving is decided by the giver. Feted and cheered is a state most of us enjoy when it happens. When it is a result of donations it is somewhat ‘bought’ and may seem less rewarding than when earned by effort. But money is power, is often earned and can be not given. Those who give are entitled to a little sunshine for doing so.

Gratitude is, after all, a gift of equal value to the giver and to the receiver.

Family always features at the top of the list of people to receive our wealth and yet many people are torn between helping reach the first rung of the property ladder and subsidising laziness. Generation after generation has demonstrated the dangers of inheritance but we have been taught that money is the top goal in life. The price for such folly is that those endowed with it often waste their lives discovering that it is not. There is no sadder sight than an unhappy rich person – except an unhappy poor person.

Many people like me find that giving to specific people for specific reasons is the most successful form of gift. To help a grandchild achieve their next step up their career or home with a modest gift is both practical and rewarding. Institutions need money, of course, and there are often effusive thanks and recognitions attached to such gifts. But the personal help for an identified purpose seems to me to be as good a way of giving as I have found. Even better when nobody knows about them.

A curious feature of our existence is that the anonymous are often great givers. It sounds contradictory but if you want to hear a real hymn of praise about it look up Richard Burton’s farewell to Frank Sinatra on Youtube.

It’s a four minute lesson but it’s a lesson for life.

The good things we do that nobody else knows about are the best things we do.

Good morning

John Bittleston

The purpose of life is to discover your gift,

the meaning of life is to give your gift away

David Viscott

We welcome your views at [email protected].

3 May 2024