Have you ever wondered why Oprah is so generous? Maybe she gives simply because her enormous income could use another tax deduction or she’s keeping a close watch on her ratings and needs the boost. I hardly think so! In her economic world, it wouldn’t matter if we ever watched her show again. While it might be true that she is in a position to give without ever touching her mother lode, I don’t believe that is the impetus behind her giving. What if she weren’t so wealthy, would she still be generous? I believe so. Check out Oprah’s Wildest Dream Bus as it cruises through America and discovers new avenues for giving; read about how she gave everyone in her audience a new car, and how she paid for a deserving girl’s college education and restored a house for a couple that generously cares for foster children. The list of her generosities is nearly endless. Bottom line though, what’s in it for Oprah?
First, let’s take a look at philanthropy, the meaning and motivations for giving. Philanthropy means a “charitable act or gift”. It can be a charitable act by an individual or an organization. It is not unlike tithing in goal or intention. It benefits the recipient with no apparent strings attached or “kick-back” benefits to the giver. Non-profit organizations are philanthropic in nature in that the organization or those who founded it are not intended (or allowed) to personally gain through its message or mission. From the old television series, The Millionaire, to today’s millionaire Oprah, there have always been philanthropists on the planet. And, while it may not matter in the least, as long as there has been philanthropy, there has been the philosophical argument that there can be no true act of philanthropy because there is always something in the giving for the giver. What could the benefit be? What motivates Oprah and the rest of us to give; what are the benefits of giving out a fortune or volunteering our time?
The first step in philanthropy is the recognition of the needs of others outside our own familiar group. Compassion and the subsequent generosity that most often occurs, comes on the heels of personal experience with need, or a deeper understanding that we are all brothers and sisters regardless of surname. Next in line is the awareness that there is endless supply—abundance enough for all on the planet, rather than a relative few.
Many of us believe if we give to others it will mean less for ourselves. Whether a child with a peanut butter sandwich deciding if he should share with a buddy, or cutting a check to the National Wildlife Fund or UNICEF, do you find yourself feeling you should be cautious with what and how much you give so you’ll have enough left over for yourself? Do you hold a garage sale rather than giving your extra stuff away when you don’t really need the cash? Don’t feel alone if you do.
Generosity and the inherent benefits are difficult concepts to understand, let alone to casually implement. As a society, we’ve come to believe more in limitation and scarcity than we do in an abundant universe. We believe in a limited supply on which the demand can exceed an apparently inflexible ceiling of availability. Sorry, there’s only so much abundance for this side of the street, but not the side you occupy, tends to be the overall thinking. We believe there will always be “haves” and “have nots.”
“That’s just the way it is,” we say. We haven’t realized we control both ends of the equation—the supply and the demand, and we do it all through our beliefs and behaviors.
Throughout any spiritual or religious teaching, from Christianity to the words of Paramahansa Yogananda, you will find reference to a universe that overflows with abundance, and the benefits of giving to our neighbors, friends and family. You’ve heard “treat your neighbor as you would be treated”, but how does that benefit you? How does it benefit you to give food to the food bank or gifts to people you don’t even know? The fact is, giving begets more than what was given. The more you give, the more you receive. Many expect what they receive to arrive in a similar parcel, e.g. if they donate $25, they might expect to receive $25 or $50 immediately, but that isn’t what is meant, nor is it what often happens. While you may indeed receive more money, you might just as likely receive more opportunities, more friends, more love from a spouse, or a better job. In short, the universe begins to shine on you in a multitude of ways, not the least of which is how you feel after giving generously.
Giving carries an intrinsic reward and extrinsic perks as well. Watch Oprah on stage as she jumps up and down in the sheer joy of the moment, fully immersed in her love of giving. Oprah has long known that giving feels good, and she doesn’t hesitate to say so. It feels so good, and is so much a part of her life, that it is far more natural for her to give than to withhold. Her generosity knows no boundaries. She doesn’t give only to the residents of the U.S.; she doesn’t give just to single women, or just the Irish or African. She gives to all of those with a perceived need, anywhere and everywhere in the world. She is truly being shined upon for her generous acts to the world and for what she is demonstrating to all of us.
Mother Theresa was another great demonstration of true generosity, excluding herself nearly entirely from worldly gifts and luxuries, as she gave simply out of the intrinsic reward of giving and lending a gentle hand to those who suffer. She always had a smile on her face. The former President and First Lady Jimmie and Roselyn Carter are spending their retirement in the construction of homes for those who need them through Habitat for Humanity. They always look happy. There are thousands of others who give something of themselves, their time or their resources every day they are alive. We seldom hear about most of them, but they are there. When watching a “giver”, have you ever seen or heard even one of them express unhappiness in what they are doing?
You can experience the effects of a universe that shines on you too. It isn’t a gift reserved just for the rare and special extreme “givers” like Oprah or Mother Theresa. As stated in A Course in Miracles, published by the Foundation for Inner Peace, “To have, give all to all.” If each of us grasped this concept and applied it, we would experience abundance the likes of which we’ve never before known and peace that knows no end. Everything good would grow and grow.
Where should we begin? Begin simply by giving away what you don’t need. Sort through your closets and cupboards, and take everything you discover you don’t use to the Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul, or any other organization that will distribute to those who could use it. Become familiar with your own community. Are there women’s shelters, food banks, nursing homes, recovery centers or daycares that could use some assistance or that old recliner that has been sitting in your garage? Do you have a particular area of expertise you could share at no charge? Maybe you have a truck for hauling, an accounting or legal firm, or a counseling practice. You don’t have to give just money, or things—you can give your time away with the same benefits to you and to the world. Branch out from giving things to include sending money or sharing a percentage of your monthly income. It will grow, as will your opportunities and feelings of love as your generosity grows. Feelings and beliefs of scarcity will disappear as you extend yourself to others. You’ll forget about your woes as you step outside of yourself in those times when giving.
We’re living in a time when we can communicate with everyone else in the world more readily than ever before possible. We have the opportunity to recognize our planetary brother’s and sister’s needs more than ever before and to do something positve about it. We can change this world by making simple changes within our own beliefs and behaviors. In doing so, we can eliminate poverty and inequity; we can eradicate the homeless issue, lack of medical care for the planet’s majority, etc.
The universe is so abundant there is enough for each man, woman and child to enjoy the benefits. That abundance will manifest as we become willing to step out and give. As more and more of us jump on the giving train, we will trade a world of “haves” and “have nots” for one of complete abundance and peace for all. Oprah can’t do it alone regardless of how much money she has. Let’s all strive to personally discover what has been in it for Oprah and others like her. The universe will shine on us all!