“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!” This description of one of the best-known fictional characters in English literature is not one any of us would like written in our epitaph.
To call someone a Scrooge – whether or not you are familiar with Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – is unequivocally to insult them. So, if we accept that tight-fistedness is a bad thing, we can safely assume that generosity, sharing and giving are universally seen as positive values.
Finding the right level of giving is a learnt skill. If we observe a toddler being challenged for a toy in his or her possession, we are likely to witness an ugly battle. The owner of the toy (be it the true owner or one in the “nine-tenths of the law” sense) will not want to give up what they see as theirs. If the object is wrenched from them they will most likely give vent to a feeling that they have “lost” something; while the snatcher revels in his or her “gain”. It won’t take a psychology professor to point out that this is probably a survival instinct in the face of what the toddler sees as scant resources. Three or four years down the line, however, children are starting to understand that they are part of a bigger tribe. If you show a five-year-old from an affluent family footage of children in a disaster zone, they will often react with the kind of generosity that puts the adults to shame: offering their toys, birthday money, bed, siblings; asking why we don’t just open our doors and invite the dispossessed to come and live with us. This kind of response to need is directly from the heart: children’s worlds are uncomplicated by conventions and cultural barriers and the practical difficulties that impose themselves in these situations. And it probably also stems from an undefined hope that, were they in the same plight, surely someone would do the same for them.
As adults, we have to strike a balance somewhere between the toddler and the five-year-old. Resources are not evenly spread and survival is a struggle for huge swathes of humanity. At an international level, developed nations like ours recognise that to cling on to all our toys while others have none is not only indecent, but it also creates an unstable situation for humanity as a whole; give away too much, however, and we run the risk of restricting our ability to be part of the solution. Helping developing countries to become wealthier is a means of ensuring that their future wealth is eventually shared with others – including ourselves.
At a more personal level, understanding the value of money in a relative sense – relative to those both in our immediate circle and on a world-wide scale – helps to concentrate the mind on our relationship with money and what we want it to give us. If we donate ten pounds to a charitable cause, it might look like our loss is someone else’s gain. But if we consider all of humanity to be our “tribe”, then we are looking after our own and widening the circle within which something comes back to us. That “something” might be the joy of giving or even just the relief of guilt; or it might eventually be the trickle-down effect of a better world in which all the participants have something to give and something to gain. Consider that, instead of giving your ten pounds away freely to a homeless charity, you are in fact mugged for it by a homeless person. In all likelihood, you will feel aggrieved at the mugging and will perceive the “transaction” as a loss; whereas when you chooseto give the money away, the effect in your wallet is the same but your emotional bank balance receives a deposit. Similarly, if you are “chugged” for some cash on the high street, you might resent the imposition but you retain a sense that the giving is within your control; whereas if you had dropped that cash on the street, a feeling of loss would likely bug you for the rest of the day.
“Choosing” to share some of your resources with others – be it money, time or expertise – is a sign of luxury. If you are able to give from your cache, you are the lucky one. At The WoWW! Business, we encourage people to factor this luxury into their perception of their own worth: the act of giving increases your sense of wellbeing and is to be viewed as an asset rather than a liability. True, there will not be obvious financial gains in the short term, but once you recognise that the option to give is available to you, it can serve as a reality check on where you are in your life and how that compares with the rest of humanity.
For those of you not familiar with A Christmas Carol, the tight-fisted Scrooge is visited by a number of ghosts who come to teach him a lesson in generosity. His past self, present self and future self all conspire to make him realise that he needs to connect with humankind again, and that means he needs to give. Spoiler alert: by the end, Ebenezer Scrooge has indeed learned the value of sharing what he has with those around him and takes a walk to church on Christmas morning, “and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk…that anything… could give him so much happiness.”