The Giving Challenge

Apr 13, 2020 | Biography, Shared thoughts

Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash

I’m going to give ten gifts a day for five days.

Because I’m a relatively solitary soul and am with the person I love most, this enforced isolation might be easier on me than on many of you. I’m quite happy without much socialising (and the Houseparty app is doing fine without me), but I am getting short on things to do. As an early riser, I digest my bellyful of the news before 7am each day. We’re allowed one daily dose of outdoor exercise. I’ve got work, but only a day or two’s worth a week. Beyond that, I mainly eat, read, write and watch Netflix. Oh, and I worry — that my partner or I will get a severe bout of Covid-19, that my parents will contract it at all, that my most vulnerable fellow humans are in harm’s way. Surely I can do something better with this precious time?

When in doubt, give

I’ve been told that the best way to improve low mood, doubt or worry is to give to others. Although I’m at least as selfish as the next person, I’ve experienced the benefits time and again of following this advice, looking beyond my own interests to find little ways of helping other people.

One of life’s twists is that selflessness is the most reliable route to taking care of myself. It’s funny, though, how this truth sometimes gets clogged in my head for lengthy periods before it filters to my hands to do something! I’ve been stuck in this sort of altruistic constipation.

I’m going to find ten people a day who I can give to, along with ten distinct things I can give. After five days, I’ll let you know how it’s gone.

What to give?

Here I am, quarantined with my partner in my one-bedroom flat in Greater London. What can I give? How might I help? My lead candidates:

  • A thank you. I can express my appreciation for a particular act or my gratitude for someone’s role in my life.
  • An apology. I might say I’m sorry for an accidental or (perish the thought) purposeful injury I caused someone, whether it was recent or long ago.
  • A compliment. When I note something pleasant or admirable in a person’s actions or appearance, I’ll share it with them.
  • Forgiveness. Just as I can apologise for injuring, I’m able to forgive someone for hurting me.
  • A consoling word. Some people are already experiencing loss — a loved one’s passing or furlough from the job they’ve depended on. I’ll try to let them know I’m thinking of them and ask if I can help.
  • A kind wish. I might express my hopes — whether to them or in my prayers — that friends stay healthy and happy.
  • A pleasant greeting. On the street or in the park, I’ll try to give a warm greeting to those I pass.
  • A smile. If speaking is inappropriate, I might at least share a smile with everyone I meet or have a video call with.
  • A reconnection. I can reach out to people who have been dear to me but whom I’ve fallen out of touch with, to check on them and let them know I’m thinking of them.
  • A charitable assumption. When I begin to interpret someone’s words or action uncharitably, I’ll try to make a more generous assumption (or none at all) of what’s behind it.
  • My undivided attention. Instead of letting my mind wander or, even worse, checking my phone screen, I can give my complete attention to whoever I’m with.
  • Unjudging acceptance. If someone acts or speaks in a way I habitually judge and react to, I might remember not to take it personally, letting it and my opinions of it pass through my experience.
  • An expression of love. Those I love, I’ll try to tell so.
  • An article that somebody might find helpful. Perhaps I’ll write something that serves as a gift to at least one person out there.
  • Food. The primary outlet for stress in my neighbourhood, judging by the shortages at the supermarket, is baking. My partner and I indulge as much as the next household. We can share our creations with friends and neighbours (by leaving them on the doorstep).
  • Money. Sadly, some people aren’t able to make ends meet right now. I might give a little to help through this tough period.
  • Help with a practical need. I can pick up groceries for someone else so they don’t need to go out. I might be able to assist in other small ways without personal contact.
  • Toilet paper. I’ve made one emergency donation to friends. Although my stocks are not vast, I stand (sit?) ready to respond to the call again.

Watch this space

After my five-day challenge, I’ll pass on my experience.

My giving might not always be apparent to the receiver. For instance, forgiveness, generous assumptions and kind wishes can live in my heart without passing my lips. Even material donations can be anonymous. Whether they know it or not, I hope some people will benefit from this giving.

The point isn’t to signal my virtue (although hey, we all do that sometimes). Nothing in the list above will elevate me to saintly status or miraculously transform my karmic bank account. The beauty is that it will likely help some people while hurting none, and my experience tells me that I’ll feel much better while doing this challenge and afterwards than when I was just sitting around worrying and stuffing my face.

And maybe, since I’m sharing this with you, some of you who — like me — aren’t doing these things as much as you might will take the challenge. And a world where more of us are doing this is that bit better, with or without COVID-19.

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