A few years ago, I found $300 dollars on the street. I knew someone must have dropped it but I had no way of finding him or her. I gave one hundred dollars to my friend who was with me and I placed the other two hundred dollars in the side pocket of my handbag. For months I walked around with the money in my handbag not finding anything worthy of my spending those two special hundred dollars bills. After a few months of holding the money, I was walking by a deli and a homeless man asked me for money. I paused and looked into his eyes and I felt them pierce through my heart. It seemed like the perfect moment to use some of the found money. I asked him if he would like a meal. He replied he'd like coffee with whole milk and one sugar, and a turkey sandwich on club with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato and American cheese with the bread slightly toasted. I was definitely startled by his detailed order but I went immediately into the deli to buy his meal. It was lunch hour and there were several people in front of me. I was able to get the coffee with milk and sugar quickly but needing the slightly toasted bread would be the barrier to my quick exit. I stood there impatiently the entire time and it took about 25 minutes to get his complete order. I walked outside and gave the man his food. He barely looked at me and muttered thank you and I walked away. I was joyful that I bought this man lunch, but I felt slightly annoyed by his elaborate order and the time it took to get the food, and then by his muted reaction to receiving it.
When I got home I made myself a cup of tea with milk and honey and ate some imported chocolate. As I ate my elaborate snack, I realized there is no reason why the homeless man shouldn't want coffee with milk and sugar and a special sandwich. I thought he is no different than me, as I sat there eating my special chocolate. And how dare I ask if he wants a meal and then expect him to limit what he may want and how long it should take me to get it? Was I really saying I would help you as long as you do it within my boundaries and say thank you the way I want you to? The incident made me reflect on what is my intention when I give and how open is my heart.
Most of us have enjoyed the act of giving to a friend, family member, charitable organization or even a stranger. But I think sometimes, even though we are giving with the best intentions, we expect things to go a certain way or to get something in return. We may expect that people will receive our gifts, favors or donations graciously, thank us in an appropriate manner or that our giving will have a certain impact on an individual or an organization. We also have an expectation about the time and effort it will take to give to someone else. While there is nothing wrong with having expectations, it really can limit our joy of giving and the ultimate experience for everyone involved. Our expectations often taint the act of giving because we can never know how things will be received or how a situation will turn out. It often can lead to anger or disappointment if the person we helped doesn't return the kindness or appreciate the gift the way we want them to. This also may lead to us giving less to a particular person or organization, not because of their need is less but because of how we felt when our expectations didn't pan out.
But when we can release our expectations and help another person with the pure intention of just giving, it can be one of the most thrilling aspects of our lives, even when we hear or see no reaction or get nothing in return. Then we can just focus on helping another human being to alleviate some of their daily suffering or spreading some joy. I'm not suggesting that we remove all boundaries and let people take advantage of us; I'm merely stating that most of us can probably give a little more to the people in our lives without thinking what we want or expect in return. With a more open and giving heart, we can create a ripple of kindness and love in the universe -- if even for just one moment. As Winston Churchill said, "We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give."
As I am finishing this blog, my telephone just rang. It was an elderly lady that lives in my building. She is in a rehabilitation center because of a fall a few weeks ago, and she asked if I can pick her up from the center at the end of this week. All I can think in this moment is how lucky I am to be able to help her in her time of need. Maybe I am the one receiving the gift? Just Maybe.
Originally published in Psychology Today