17 November 2011

The good life is generous

I'm a big friend of lending books.  In some ways, a lot of our social networking ties into that same simple notion, to point our friends towards information that we might think is useful to them.  The idea of giving is vitally important to my understanding of the good life, and there's no better way for me to explain it than to point you towards the words of Kahlil Gibran.  I had planned on using this blog as a way to sort through my own ideas on a subject, but sometimes my own ideas are tied so tightly to my influences that there's no way of separating them.  In those kind of cases I think that the most useful thing to do is to simply reproduce the original rather than run it through my admittedly thin filter.

The following text is from his book The Prophet:

Then said a rich man, "Speak to us of Giving."

And he answered:

You give but little when you give of your possessions.

It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.

For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?

And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?

And what is fear of need but need itself?

Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, thirst that is unquenchable?

There are those who give little of the much which they have - and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.

And there are those who have little and give it all.

These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.

There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.

And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.

And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;

They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.

Though the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.

It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding;

And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving

And is there aught you would withhold?

All you have shall some day be given;

Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors'.

You often say, "I would give, but only to the deserving."

The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.

They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.

Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights is worthy of all else from you.

And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.

And what desert greater shall there be than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving?

And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed?

See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.

For in truth it is life that gives unto life - while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.

And you receivers - and you are all receivers - assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives.

Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings;

For to be overmindful of your debt, is to doubt his generosity who has the free-hearted earth for mother, and God for father.


  1. I'm a you know.free.spirit and yeah I work with a lot of.people who deserve gifts so to speak and work for a lot of people who could be.more.giving. I try to live my life like.the.prophet.above suggests. I had a tremendous experience as a member of americorps. Now the economy sucks and I'm on a different path. I feel like there are huge holes in me now as I come down from the.lofty platitudes of the good life and join the working poor. I kind of did it backwards now as most people "give back" later in life. I'm a mess because there isn't ablot of room for philosophy in tree.work. as it turns out this passage was just what I needed to read thank you for the.struggle...

  2. One of my central motivations for exploring this topic is to try to come to an understanding of what a good life looks like in a world where we might be experiencing long term economic contraction for a large number of our people.

    The key line in this passage for me is "It is when you give of yourself that you truly give." Giving freely of our selves, our emotions, our time, our thoughts, our simply being there to listen, is something that seems to be increasingly sliding away as we move into a more and more atomized world.

    Giving money is simple, and oftentimes just a guilt assuager, so we should look to other types of giving as well.

  3. Yeah actually putting the time into something and looking at the effects of society right in their face is pretty hard but most people who take that initial step are thankful they went through with it. I don't think I've ever heard of someone who didn't come away from voluteering without feeling good about something