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Why Do We Give?

What motivates us to give our time, stuff and money?

Growing up I always felt the desire to give. Making scrunchies for my elementary school friends and handmade birthday cards. Once I got a job at age 15, I was happy to buy my friends birthday gifts, pay for meals out and give little just because gifts. I've always been that person who will give you my last dollar if you wanted it.

My parents always taught me to give without strings attached. This is a hard concept to understand as a kid because in our culture we are taught to always say thank you and give something back if you receive something, even if it's just a thank you card. We expect a thank you or some acknowledgment of how awesome we are for thinking of the other person.

This is definitely an attached string!

Giving often makes us feel really good about ourselves. Like "we did our good deed for the day" I actually really hate this phrase! Let's do good deeds all day, ok? While giving is great, it's also important to set boundaries. Giving too much of my time, my energy or money often left me feeling icky, unappreciated and taken advantage of. I experienced this all too often (especially while traveling) and learned to be more thoughtful about what, who and where I give to.

In 2010 I was teaching English in South Korea and was planning a trip to India for 2 months on my way back home after my contract had ended. I saved, planned and read everything I could find about traveling alone to this place I dreamed of seeing since I was little. I knew that kids would be asking me for money on the streets and that the people living in extreme poverty was overwhelming. I thought I was prepared for it all, but seeing this in person was a whole different story.

I'm always happy to give people money on the streets. If I don't have cash, I try to make eye contact, smile and say hi to people. Or better yet, I'll stop for a conversation or buy a meal or coffee. I don't know why, but I've always been drawn to people asking for money on the street. Maybe it's because I feel sad or guilty for having privilege and resources when others are clearly suffering further than I could ever comprehend, but I've always believed in the importance of humanizing people asking for help.

having breakfast with this baba who asked for some money for food & medicine

Knowing very well I didn't have a ton of money to give away on this trip, I came prepared with THOUSANDS of stickers for kids. I thought "How cool of me to do this, I am going to make some kids so happy because we all love stickers!" Well, this privileged thought was very short lived. I saw the conditions many kids were living in; they needed food, a bath, and new clothes.

I became friends with one little kid in Rishikesh near the yoga school I was at. She was scrappy and confident, a true business minded gal. She never took no for an answer. She would come up to me and shove a crayon scribbled drawing into my hand asking for 10 rupees ( about 15 cents). I totally insulted her with stickers so I offered to take her out to eat instead of just handing over some money. She really didn't care about that and ran off. I saw her everyday for almost 6 weeks, she would jump on me and give me the biggest hug, she just needed to be held which I was happy to do. I eventually met her mom and sat with her for awhile while she told me about the issues the family had. I gladly gave her the 200 rupees (less than $3) she asked for. I should have given her more......

Being a solo woman foreigner made me stand out everywhere. This was an open invitation for people to come up and ask for money (or steal it in a few cases). I know this bothers so many people and I get it, it's annoying to be hassled for money. It's emotionally draining when all you want to do is blend it, relax and enjoy your time. It's easier to just walk by and ignore that person asking for help. It's easy to assume that homeless people are addicts, or flat out lazy, but these are common misconceptions of people living in poverty or experiencing homelessness.

After my 6 weeks of yoga, I went to a 10 day silent intro to Buddhism retreat in the Himalayas. It was one of the BEST experiences I ever had. Not talking or having small talk with other travelers was so powerful. A wonderful Buddhist nun was running the course and one day she was talking about giving to people begging. She said something that totally struck me. It was something along the lines of "Why just give change to people? You can't buy anything with a few coins. Start giving $5 or $10 bills, that's nothing to you!"

This really changed how I viewed giving and how I choose to give now. I always expected a thank you or that someone would buy a life necessity, like I was magically going to help them out of poverty and give them hope to change. Nope, it doesn't work like this. This is a whole different conversation that I will share more about one day.

As humans, we all need food, shelter, clothes, love, fulfillment, kindness and care. As a privileged person with resources, it's my duty to give what I can to others without feeling like a savior. Giving without expecting something in return is something hard to do, but I have hope it will bridge the gap between people who have more and people who have less.

In conclusion, I encourage you to think more about your perspective & relationship to giving:

  • How does it make you feel when you give?

  • What do you do when you see someone on the street asking for help?

  • Would you continue to give or help if it wasn't what you expected?

  • What do you expect in return?

  • What is your immediate reaction if you don't get a thank you?

  • How have your experiences shaped the way you think about giving?

  • What is your family's relationship to money and giving? What are your parents' views on it? What opportunities to offer your children to give?

Thanks for reading! I'd love to hear your experiences and thoughts on the topic.

With Love + Art,


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