05/06/2014 04:41 pm ET Updated Jul 06, 2014

You Can't Love Without Giving

At our house, we never knew who would be joining us for dinner. My mother lost her mother at an early age. All of her life she carried vivid memories of being passed from hand to hand, relative to relative, doing without, and never quite feeling like she belonged. In her house all were welcome. Everyone belonged.

Food was love. No one ever went away hungry. After my brother and I grew old enough to live independently, the chief beneficiary of my mother's affection was an Airedale, Cassie, who was so well taken care of I affectionately nicknamed her "Little Sister."

Cassie was the runt of the litter, but under Mom's care she grew to be about as wide as she was tall. It was not uncommon to find her cooking an egg or boiling a chicken to "sweeten" the dog's dinner.

At the time it seemed funny. Since then, I have come to understand it as something more -- You can't love without giving.

The truth of this observation is borne out daily in the market place. In fact, much of modern commerce is built around this fundamental aspect of our nature. Implicit in many advertisements for goods or services, explicit and inescapable in the buying occasions organized to coincide with celebrations of those we love -- Valentine's Day, Christmas, Father's Day, and of course, Mother's Day -- is the knowledge that we can easily be persuaded to demonstrate our affection for someone we love by buying something for them.

The impulse to give to those we love is irresistible. What we call humanitarianism is nothing more than a healthier extension of this basic instinct and a broader, more inclusive love. We give to each other out of love, but the gifts we give pale by comparison to the gift of love itself.