It’s not what you give, it’s how you give it’ —Bruce Lee
These are true and resonant words to me. They are how I live my life, and how I try to teach my children to give. I believe that the inspiration to share one’s fortune needs to come from an inner desire to give. It cannot be forced, it cannot be taught. However, it can, and should, be inspired.
I had an interesting conversation with a friend recently, where we talked about how to encourage philanthropy and giving in children. Our chat was spurred by prom season and how much us parents spend on preparing kids (especially the girls) for their big day. Our difference of opinion centred on the question of how young people can be encouraged to look outside themselves, to want to give, and to understand the intrinsic value of sharing what they have. Can it be forced? Or does the desire to give need to emerge organically through life experience?
My friend suggested that the excesses of prom were frivolous and girls should buy cheaper dresses and donate the difference towards a cause, such as purchasing dresses for girls who cannot afford them.
Philanthropy: a ‘desire to benefit humanity’ and a ‘love for all humanity’.
I disagreed. To me, forcing a teenager to give something up so that someone else can have it ruins the true nature of giving. Just like Bruce Lee says, it’s not the what, but the how that truly is important.
Would denying my daughter a dress I could afford cause her the desire to share? Probably not. Teenagers are essentially egocentric. The challenge was to plant the seeds so that she would be stirred to action. I wanted her to want to do something, and then let her figure out, on her own, how to help, how to support with her heart.
Young people become even more empowered as they find a cause they truly believe in and use their skills to make a difference.’ Craig Kielburger .
I suggested a different tactic to my friend, which I actually carried out. What if I talked to my daughter about the costs of her prom, and asked her if she thought everyone could afford luxuries like designer dresses, custom makeup and hair, and limousines? What if I asked her if she could think of a way to make someone else’s prom as special as hers without giving anything up? What if I could inspire her find a way to give that made her feel good about what she was doing, so that she would do it with love and want to do it again?
As long as you are committed, you are making a difference. If we all do these small things with great love, we are sure to do great things together. —Craig Kielburger
After our conversation, my daughter came to me and suggested that we donate her dress to The Corsage Project, an organization that provides prom attire to girls who wouldn’t otherwise be able to purchase dresses. When she shared her idea, she said, ‘I had the best prom night ever, and I want my dress to make someone else’s night special too.’
To me, my soon-to-be-adult child had arrived upon the true meaning of philanthropy. She was inspired to give from her heart, to share something that was special to her with someone else. The gift she wanted to give held great meaning for her, and she wasn’t doing it because I told her to, or because she had to.
Instead of telling her what to care about, and how to do it, I provided an opportunity for her to look outside of herself and find her passion. I turned what could have been a negative experience had I taken my friend’s suggested approach, and instead turned it into a heartfelt experience.
The challenge continues, in our world of excess and me-want, to seek out ways to unobtrusively teach children a true love of giving from the heart with no expectation of reward.
The best way? To model it oneself. My message?
Share, be kind, and remember, you’re lucky for what you have. Never feel guilt for your good furtune Instead , put a smile on someone else’s face and share your happiness.