Discover the benefits of giving
Andrew Frere Smith describes how a generous spirit can benefit the giver as well as those who receive the gifts.
There was once a man made entirely of rags. His head was a dishcloth, his clothes a waterfall of fabric, his eyes cracks of blue silk, and his mouth a crescent of scarlet velvet. When the rag man arrived, children threw things at him and parents, who thought nothing mattered more than being clean and tidy, locked their gates. He went to live in the park.
Then one day people started talking. “What’s happening to the Rag man?” His locks of hair had been reduced to just a few strands; even his face looked thinner. A woman, whose husband had recently died, said, “I feel so guilty. I should never have accepted the piece of cloth he gave me to dry my tears, but it reminded me of a shirt I made for my husband." A man, whose house had burnt down, said, “I was in despair and the Rag Man gave me a dish cloth. I felt better at once.” And so, it went on.
The mayor stood up, “The Rag Man has been giving himself away to help others. It is up to us to give back what he has lost.” People came from all over town and left clothes they no longer needed. The Rag Man became as colourful and as ragged as before and the townspeople recognised in his costume pieces they knew.
I came across this beautiful tale in an abridged version of ‘Meet me at the Museum’ by Anne Youngson. It reminded me of a meeting I attended last week with a business network. One of their principles for success was to be generous. They believed that by helping others, they too would be helped. They called it ‘Giver’s Gain’.
When I first read an NHS report called Five Ways to Wellbeing, I was struck how being generous was highlighted as a key element to improving one's wellbeing. They called it ‘Give’. Their advice was to:
Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you.
It is hardly surprising that there is plenty of evidence to show that generosity is a key to happiness. Two thousand years ago Jesus made it one of his principles for living: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38.
Recently, I was asked to think of something positive that might have come out of the pandemic. What came to mind was the wonderful community spirit that so quickly emerged, and the way people volunteered their time, energy, and money, to help others. Generosity, displayed through numerous acts of kindness, was a feature of every community.
As our communities recover from the pandemic, it’s my hope that our communities will continue to be places blessed with a spirit of generosity. If it is to be true of my community, I must ask myself, am I still willing to give?
The image above is courtesy of Imagine Norfolk Together.
Andrew Frere-Smith is Development Worker for Imagine Norfolk Together, based in Kings Lynn.
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