Imprinting Generosity On Kids

You know the saying that goes something like, ‘they have so much money they don’t know what to do with it’? I’ve come across folks like this. Folks who are wealthy, who have more money than they’ll ever need, and who are at a loss as to what to do with their good fortune.

Invariably, these people pose the same confused question: ‘what’s the point of having money just sit there? If I have it I should spend it, I should buy stuff, right?’

When I come across this sort of self-indulgent, inward focused, Me, Me, Me thinking, my insides instinctively seize up, judgment floods my airways, and my tongue prepares to peel a strip or two off this kind of attitude.

But before saying anything, I calm myself. I breathe deeply. And I remind myself that everyone is on their own life path, and it’s not for me to TELL someone about the benefits of adopting a generous mindset.

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The practice of generosity liberates you from feelings

of separateness or alienation.


Measuring Wealth

Instead of trying to direct someone’s behaviour, I tell them stories in an attempt to lead them to water.

The first story is about Bill Gates, Microsoft founder (NASDAQ:MSFT), the man with the most money in our world. Not only preposterously rich in monetary terms but also spiritually rich, here’s what Gates says:

“Money has no utility to me beyond a certain point. Its utility is entirely in building an organization and getting the resources out to the poorest in the world.”

With Gates and his wife having established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, an organization that recognizes the equal worth of all lives, helps people and communities lift themselves out of hunger and poverty, combats infectious diseases, and devotes hundreds of millions of dollars annually to supporting the Foundation’s objectives, his words are far from empty.

The second story involves my two eldest kids, The Teenagers. They have had the good fortune to learn about, and participate in, the WE MOVEMENT, a phenomenal organization that is all about giving back.

Here’s a few highlights of WE taken from their website:

  • WE is a movement that exists for one reason: to make the world a better place.
  • Anyone can make a difference and there are myriad ways to participate both through giving back and our daily choices.
  • We are defined by our daily efforts; small things add up to great change.
  • Our lives take on a deeper, transformative meaning when we impact the lives of others.
  • We believe in giving of ourselves to help raise a compassionate future generation that looks for any opportunity to make a difference.

In relating these stories, my hope is that the Don’t-Know-What-To-Do-With-My-Money-Crowd will at least ponder why some people choose to give back. And consider the possibility that their heart may just smile and go thumpity thump thump simply by shifting their focus, if ever so slightly, away from ME and toward sharing with others less fortunate, impacting their lives in a positive way.

Because the point of having surplus money is not just to hoard it or spend it on stuff for your self. Far from contributing to your personal happiness and sense of well being, clinging to money, allowing money to possess you, makes you miserable.

Giving, however, is what contributes to a sense of fulfillment. Giving is what makes you wealthy.

This from Anne Frank, the young girl with the wise philosopher soul:

“No one has ever became poor by giving.”

 

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Giving The Gift of Generosity To Kids

My kids love receiving gifts. Six months before their birthday, I’m being told what’s on their wish list. Often, I respond by rolling my eyes, and issuing a reminder that I’m open to receiving b-day lists no sooner than one month before the magical date.

But, wow, I think to myself, they get so excited! The anticipation, the mystery, the fact that people are giving you stuff that you’ll probably like a lot and use for at least one week … it’s all heady stuff for a kid.

That said, the two teenage creatures in our home seem to be evolving. Having passed the halfway mark of their second decade, they’re no longer kids in many ways.

And while they still enjoy receiving gifts, they now understand the joy of giving too. They understand the satisfaction that comes with watching someone receive your gift and express true appreciation for your thoughtfulness. They understand that Giving is the Gift they give to them self as much as to the other person, one that is worth so much more than money or stuff.

Most of us get to this place sooner or later, the one where we get that we’re wired to help, support, and give to others. It’s part of feeling connected, acknowledging that we’re social animals, that we’re at peace when we show love and care for others, that giving is as essential to our well being, if not moreso, as receiving. It’s our natural disposition, our fulfilled state of being. And when we inhabit this state, we feel good, knowing we’re making a positive difference.

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Why Should I Be Generous?

I’ve taken my kids to several birthday parties where parents of the birthday girl/boy send an invitation asking for a small donation, say $1 or $2, and no other gift. And I’ve done the same with my kids. I get it. I mean, some kids have enough stuff. And parent thinking is that this is an opportunity to teach the kid about giving to those less fortunate. So parents take the donations and, together with the kid, decide upon a charity worthy of donation.

It’s the rare kid who doesn’t see this type of parental scheme as nothing short of diabolical. Sure, the kid hears what the parent is saying but the will, the desire, to forego a truckload of cool toys just isn’t there. And that’s fine because Lily or Lenny is still a kid and the Giving Gene hasn’t yet been activated.

Still, how can you be sure that Lily or Lenny won’t want toys all to them self for their entire life time? How do you make sure that the giving gene is activated one day, and that children, teens, and late blooming adults eventually understand that generosity is a good thing for them self and for others?

  1. Make Giving Personal. Tell them your story. Tell them how you or family members were given a hand up.

Maybe you received a student loan from the government or a generous aunt and these funds allowed you to attend university, graduate with a degree, get a well paying job and now provide for your family.

Maybe you had a grandparent who risked leaving their home country to settle in the USA or Canada, and their doing so meant that you grew up in a political system supporting rights and freedoms, and providing opportunities.

Maybe your mother was struck with breast cancer, survived owing to a skilled physician working in an advanced medical system, and as a result you grew up with two caring parents instead of only one.

There are countless ways, small and large, in which we’ve been helped by others. The thing is, no one gets to where they are without someone setting the foundation for you, without someone helping you or your family or friends along the way. So tell your kids all of your stories, over and over again because what you say and do matters, specifically in terms of imparting the value of generosity.

  1. Give Together. Your kids may not know how they want to give back or what they want to give. So take this journey together.

Consider different forms of assistance such as charitable giving, being a friend to a recently arrived immigrant family, or volunteering at the local Alzheimer’s Foundation because a family member was stricken with the disease.

Whatever cause you choose is not as important as joining your kids on their giving journey, sharing your enthusiasm, and displaying your own sense of generosity. Because awakening their own sense of generosity would likely be your finest gift ever.

  1. Giving Circles. Charitable giving circles involve a group of people pooling assets and then deciding how, and to whom, to give those assets.

In my family, we have five people in our circle, including my kids and spouse. And each year we make a collective decision about which charities to support financially and which causes will receive our time and energy.

This year we’ve spoken to several friends, inviting them to join the circle. Without pressuring them (because giving is best when it comes from the heart not because you feel pressured by family, friends, culture, religion, etc.), we’ve received positive replies from seven people.

And we’re excited about this larger circle that’s being created. Because with more people sharing of them self to make an impact on other lives, with more giving, and more generosity, we all feel better.

And like the WE Movement says, giving paves the way for our lives to take on a deeper, transformative, more satisfying meaning when we positively impact the lives of others. And it’s really, kinda amazing that our kids our learning the value of giving, the value of compassion, and in the process making themselves as rich as they could possibly be.