Writer and lecturer Dale Carnegie once said: “Life truly is a boomerang. What you give, you get.”
Last year, I missed the birthday of an 8-year-old grandson. Having noticed on a recent visit to his home that he enjoyed driving nails into a board, I sent him an age-appropriate toolbelt and tools I’d found online.
That unexpected gift prompted a phone call from a kid bursting with excitement. We talked for a few minutes while he described each tool, and I got off the phone suffused with the happiness he’d shared.
There was that boomerang.
Giving to others brings gifts in return.
For one thing, giving takes us out of what can be the prison of the self. Ours is a culture in which we can become obsessed with that self. We see therapists, hoping to find a key to unlock that prison door, we read self-help books, seeking relief from circumstances as varied as obesity and depression, and in the worst-case scenario, we try to escape the self through drugs or booze.
But the act of giving takes us away from this preoccupation with ourselves. The professor whose beloved wife has recently died fights his grief by throwing himself into his teaching, tutoring students, taking them on field trips, and inviting them in groups into his home for special suppers. The alcoholic attorney joins AA and after a while. becomes a sponsor for new members seeking sobriety, finding that in helping them, she is helping herself.
Whether it’s time, treasure, or talent, when we give to others, we can also take enormous satisfaction in the happiness and pleasure we deliver to them. The husband who out of the blue brings his wife a bouquet of roses, the boss who bestows an end-of-the-year bonus on his employees, the retired accountant who teaches her 10-year-old granddaughter the art of making apple pies: there’s that boomerang again, coming back around to gladden these gift givers’ hearts.
And right now, we particularly need this generosity of the spirit.
We’re coming up on a winter that promises hardships and trials for most of us, a season of dark days when there may be shortages of food and fuel, and economic chaos caused by a seemingly endless pandemic. Stout hearts and unwavering willpower will be essential if we are to make our way through these tribulations.
If we are to prevail during this ordeal, and not merely survive, we must also intentionally cultivate largesse, a giving of ourselves—that greatest of gifts—to those around us. Faced with privation and fear, many people become despondent and anxious.
We must resist that temptation, look clear-eyed at whatever is taking place in the public square and our private lives, and whenever possible strive to encourage those around us, our family and friends, our fellow employees, and our neighbors. Gifts large and small may inspire the recipients to take heart and pay those gestures forward.
Denzel Washington is renowned as an award-winning film actor, but he’s also a noted inspirational speaker. Here are his thoughts on giving: “At the end of the day, it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished. It’s about what you’ve done with those accomplishments. It’s about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.”
This winter, in particular, let’s give generously of ourselves to others, candles of hope in the darkness.