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3 surprisingly wrong perceptions about giving back

Forget everything you have ever learned about this topic and be surprised about how fun, simple yet powerful helping others can be

I cannot remember how we ended up talking about this topic, but a good friend of mine and I recently debated on the idea of giving back. I was really irritated by his opinion. So, I started a small social experiment and asked a few other friends how they think about this matter.

My conclusion?

I, personally, have the feeling that many of us either put the giving back topic on a pedestal or find lame excuses for not taking action. The most common misperceptions or “problems” I was told about were:

  • “Yeah, I know. I should give back (more)”. 
  • “It is a great thing. But I barely have enough money to pay my own bills.”
  • “I dunno where to start. Or whom to support.”

Eh?! Yes, that is why I decided to reflect a bit on these answers today.

Let me start with the “should approach”. You know me a bit by now. So you also know that I do not believe in “shoulds”. My questions in return would be: Said who? And why should you? Does it add value to your life? Does it make you happy? If yes, then do so. If not, let it be. Or in other words:

Do it with (com)passion or not at all.

The second answer always makes it hard for me to not burst out laughing. Who said that you have to donate money to charity?! That’s like mixing apples and oranges. And even if this would be the only option, would this mean that you have to donate 50% of your income…? You can present that stunning street musician, artist or beggar with 2 Euro (Do not tell me that you haven’t 2 Euros left. Was the last WAY too overpriced coffee with you name misspelled on the paper cup really an ESSENTIALLY needed purchase?). Imagine if every third, or even fifth person passing by would follow your lead!

WE would make that person’s day.

This brings me to the third answer. Downgrade your expectations. Why do we human beings have the tendency to make things difficult and unreachable? I think I will call this social phenomenon “the pedestal complex”. 😉 Anyway, what I mean? You do not have to dig dwells for underprivileged tribes in the middle of nowhere. You do not need to look after banished baby elephants in Asia. And no, you do not need to donate one of your kidneys to give back.

Why don’t you start in your own social environment?

Some examples needed? Alright, there you go:

  • The easiest and most underestimated way of giving back is making somebody smile or even laugh. I regularly compliment random people on the rarest things (usually on what first caught my attention like their eyes, stylish shoes, whateverrr) or make a fool out of myself to trigger a laughter (a great stress reliever, btw) when I feel a dark cloud of stress or unhappiness floating around them. Sometimes these strangers are SO touched, they even get tears in their eyes. – Now tell me that this is not giving back?!
  • The second most “forgotten” small act is listening. Yes, you heard correctly. GENUINELY listening and understanding what a friend, family member or colleague talks about and then coming up with unconventional ideas on how to solve the issue; or a simple sign of appreciation (a basic human need) for their efforts can make a huge difference and be of enormous help. If you are not convinced, then Dalai Lama’s approach might change your perspective on this matter: “When you talk you are only repeating what you know; but when you listen, you may learn something new.”

Also often forgotten…

  • I know that you are great in a certain field. You may be an expert in nutrition, fitness, marketing small businesses or how to get the best shopping deals in town. One of your friends or colleagues is regularly overwhelmed or struggles in these fields though. If they are genuinely interested in changing the status quo (you can find this out with a few smart hidden questions), offer them a free of cost consulting session next time instead of watching a movie together. Can you imagine how much value you add to their life?
  • If the last scenario does not require your help, try it this way: What are you passionate about? What drives you? E.g. a certain sport or the idea of education as a basic right for everybody. Is there a local association, which supports the next generation of football players or a group of teachers who regularly flies to poorer countries to teach for a few months? You could support them which your own knowledge, expertise and or time.
  • If you want to go one level further and actually donate money, why don’t you regularly watch Ted TalksThis one (really worth a watch!) is just one of hundreds, even thousands, stunning initiatives I just recently learned about.

Try resp. test one or two of these examples, and reflect on what the reaction of the person you helped does with you. The likeliness that their smiles or “thank yous” will make you feel happy as well is pretty high. Why? Well, I believe that it is in our nature. Human beings are social beings.

This brings me back to first “should excuse”. Find a meaningful (meaningful for YOU, it does not matter what other people perceive as meaningful) cause and you will never feel or even use the word “should” anymore. You will gladly contribute your time, money, knowledge, assets or whatever it may be.

And when will you take action…?

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