The Flow of Generosity

I am writing this from Barnes & Noble at Town Centre, our local shopping area. People are juggling their mounds of gifts, pulling kids along and searching for that last minute item to finish off their shopping list. It is the perfect time to "people watch".

Last night, a cold wind blew through our town and this morning it was 38 degrees. It feels like Christmas. Sweaters and coats, lights, trees and wrapping paper. Anticipation!

As I thought about a post for this time of year, for some reason my mind got locked on the word receiving. This is the season we give. We start around Thanksgiving raising money for charities, conducting food drives and collecting Toys for Tots with friends and family. So much giving. Then, the encouragements come along, bumping us to give just a bit more. Donate to the food bank, the Salvation Army drum in front of the store, families in need, giving opportunities and messages are everywhere it seems. Truly, it is better to give than receive.

So, why the topic of receiving? What sort of strange message would it be to talk about receiving, especially at this time of year? It may smack of the 1980's and the "yuppies" (young urban professionals). The movie "Wall Street" with Michael Douglas epitomized the greed. Some now say that our country's economic problems stem from this shift toward "getting".

Yet, here I am with pen in hand and the word is receiving.

As I have wrestled with this word for several weeks, it has allowed me to realize something about giving. With respect to giving or the broader notion of generosity, there are two types of givers: ponds and streams. A pond is a closed loop. A stream is simultaneously open on both sides.

Please allow me to broaden the subject of giving and receiving to include more than material gifts. Let us consider the topic to include the giving and receiving of time, your attention, access to you and even words of praise. It has been my observation that people who are generous tend to be very good receivers. The most generous people are like streams. They have learned the art of both receiving and giving, and it seems effortless. They have the flow of generosity.

Then there are ponds. Ponds are people who may be great individuals. They do a fair amount of giving and they may even give until it hurts. However, there is tension in them. They want to give even more, but they struggle with worry about experiencing lack. Their pond is only so large. If they give and give their pond will shrink. Their tension is not about being stingy or harsh, but rather it is about not being able to receive.

We have all known people who will do anything for you. They will come straight to the emergency room if you get sick. They will cover for you at work. They will lend you their car. They are great givers. However, when they are in need, they are not able to receive. They get hurt, but don't tell anyone. They have a flat tire, but do not call friends for help. They have a tough financial year, but are too "strong" to ask for assistance. They have the tension of being like a pond.

What if it works best to be both good givers and good receivers? What if it is optimal to give out of the abundance of what you have received? Streams have healthy flow, while ponds stagnate. Receiving is absolutely linked to giving. Generosity is the ability to do both.

It may help to think of receiving as doing two positive things. First, when you receive you allow the person giving to you to experience the benefit of giving. If someone wants to give you a positive word of praise or if they want to give you a material gift and you do not accept it, then that person is robbed of the benefit of giving. If, however, you receive freely, then the flow of giving and receiving works and is expanded.

Second, if you receive then you will have something extra to give away. Even words of praise or encouragement can be received and then turned around and given to others. In our office, we have an open environment. As I walk around, I say hello to folks, wish them happy birthday if I see balloons or thank them for a great project. I try to stay open to receiving as well. If someone smiles and says, "Hello Shawn!", then I receive that positive vibe and pass it along to someone else. The more I interact with people, the more I give. It is a flow. I need my cup to overflow and then my giving is in high gear. When I am in a rush and do not interact with folks, I miss out on receiving. When I miss out on receiving, I give less.

Sometimes your cup can run low. You get worn down. You do not feel like giving. At those times it is actually good to seek a compliment, something to receive to fill your tank. Go to someone who you know is positive and who is a "giver" and just ask them to tell you something positive about the day, about your team or about you personally. Get so comfortable with receiving that you can actually find more when you need it. And as you prime the pump then live each day expecting to receive. Not so you can have more, but so that you can give more and so that others can benefit from giving to you.

The flow of generosity is such a powerful concept. The more you look for it, the more you will find it. Be a stream today! Stay open to gifts. Then pass them along. Live in the flow.

The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention. -Richard Moss