The Gift of Not Giving

Daily, we feel assaulted by what appears to be selfish and inconsiderate behavior – at work, on the road, in stores, even by what we view on TV.

A survey funded by the Pew Charitable Trust found that the majority of Americans believe that rudeness is on the rise in our society and that life was more civil in the past.

42% of the survey participants were at least honest enough to admit they are sometimes part of the problem.

The pitfall in disparaging the behavior of others as rude (or ignorant or stupid or any of the other labels we carelessly toss about) is that we often don’t know the whole story. Here is an example.

In a small Maryland town, Steve Cobb is behind the wheel of a pickup truck. His wife Kim sits beside him as they go for an evening drive. At an intersection where he had always turned left in the past, a new sign cautions, “No Left Turn.” Steve sits for a long moment, confused about what to do. A police officer walks up, points a bright flashlight directly into Steve’s face and yells, “Can you not read, stupid?”

Many of us, even though shocked by the policeman’s aggressiveness, might nonetheless agree with his appraisal – especially if we were behind the pickup truck and in a hurry. We’d probably be leaning on our horns and yelling to this idiot to MOVE!!!!

What you don’t know and that policeman didn’t realize is that Steve was in town participating in a long-term rehabilitation program for brain-damaged veterans of the Iraq War.

Profiled as part of its recent Span of War series, National Public Radio covered Steve’s story as he returned home to recover and to piece his life back together. A highly skilled mechanic before receiving his war wound, he’s now trying to regain enough motor skills to qualify for a minimum-wage job in his hometown hospital, folding laundry. His confusion at the intersection was a symptom of his brain damage.

Had the policeman known the full story, he might have acted quite differently toward Steve.

And what does this story have to do with giving?

When we think of giving, we usually picture tossing money into a Salvation Army collection bucket, writing a check to a charity or volunteering at a community event.
Let’s look at giving in a different light. Consider giving in a way that costs no money and takes almost no time. Yet, it is far more challenging than donating your spare change or your spare time.

It requires us to put into play one of our most difficult-to-practice powers: self-restraint. Self-restraint requires us to think things through before we act.

Ways to practice self-restraint include biting your tongue when someone snaps at you, or taking a cooling-off period before you decide whether to fire off that colorfully descriptive letter to Aunt Millie about her behavior at Thanksgiving dinner. And what a gift for us all if you could restrain yourself from judging the holiday spirit of others based on how YOU think they should act.

Practice self-restraint because you don’t know the whole story. Instead of assuming that people are deliberately rude or trying to tick you off, why not assume that they’re simply preoccupied or doing the best they can in the circumstances – like Steve Cobb, the injured veteran. Why not start assuming the best of people instead of the worst?

We often say, “You get what you give.” That is the Law of Attraction in a nutshell. The flip side of that is that you DON’T get what you don’t give. By practicing self-restraint, you avoid the boomerang impact of negative behavior.

There have been complaints that people don’t give enough. The truth may be that we give too much – our opinions, our reactions, and our negativity. Let’s give by not giving and watch how things improve.

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