As I have written about here, I give Kiva gift certificates for Christmas. This year I gave over 50 to friends to make micro-finance loans. I logged in last week and found that only four have used them. I was so upset that my friends, no matter how busy their lives are, couldn’t take two minutes to help starving people in Cambodia start a business.
For the past five years, I’ve been interviewing students who have applied to the college I graduated from. I find it entertaining, I find it humbling, I find it thought provoking. I also find it frustrating that these students who have essentially found near cures for cancer, can’t gain admission to my college. But so is the case for the Ivy League.
Last week I interviewed a boy who described himself as a bastard child. His father has been married for 52 years to a woman who is not his mother. He hardly knows him. His mother has just been diagnosed with a terminal disease. At some point during his college career, he will become an orphan.
I asked how he was dealing with all of this, and he said he is figuring out that happiness is about giving. And then this wise boy paraphrased my favorite Dalai Lama quote, “I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy. From the very core of our being, we desire contentment. In my own limited experience, I have found that the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the principal source of success in life. Since we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. The key is to develop inner peace.”
And then this boy said he’s learned to give to his mother in her time of need and how she’s not able to give back to him, but it will come from someone else another day. And that the more positive help that you can put into the world, the more it will circle back. He’s serving at food banks, helping his neighbors, volunteering at Boys & Girls Clubs, and tutoring children to read.
I often think we live in a society in which we are too concerned about what we will get back from what we are giving. “Is it worth it for me? What will I get?” Sometimes, I feel this is Hammurabi’s Code of giving. If you give to my charity, I have to give to your charity, etc. Am I frustrated that I gave over 50 Kiva loans for Christmas and only four people actually used them? Yes. I bought paintings for people in Paris, and a few couldn’t even send a thank-you. But a gift should never be given with the expectation of something in return. If you do have expectations, don’t give it, because you’re really not giving a gift.
I can’t wait to see where this boy is going, because if at 17 he’s learned that you shouldn’t be on some tally system about what you give out, he will go far.Tweet