Think about the last time you gave someone something – your time, your friendship, a smile, or a gift of some kind. If you are totally honest with yourself, did you truly give without expectation of return? So often we give to others as if we are entering into an unspoken contract with them; we are thinking ‘I’ll cook you dinner this week, then it will be your turn’, or ‘I’m looking after your child, so when I need someone to do the same for me, I know you’ll offer’.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with this per se – reciprocity has been the foundation of our economics for centuries – it is a world apart from true giving. Of course it is reasonable to expect that if we smile at someone, they will smile and be friendly back. If they don’t, we may not smile so readily ourselves the next time we see them. But sometimes we must give for the sake of giving. When we donate to a good cause, we are not expecting any benefit to ourselves, at least in the short term. We give because someone or something else’s plight has touched our hearts. We give because we care, because we have allowed something external to ourselves into our hearts.
When we offer our help, our companionship and our time to our friends and neighbours, we may well find that they reciprocate. But when they don’t, that can be fine too. We help because we want to help. Because we can empathise with their situation, and with their needs. When we truly give, we give selflessly, and without thought of ourselves. We are in touch with our more spiritual selves, with our sense of compassion, as we open our hearts to those around us, and make their needs greater than our own.