Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Meaning of Giving

I'm pleased to announce my new blog, my new project, and (hopefully) my new book:

40 Days of Giving: An Experiment in Charity

Giving has a long history. In fact, giving is a central theme in many cultures. It features prominently in all three Abrahamic religions, and also among the mythologies of the ancient and new world.

In the Bible, the Earth is given over as a gift to mankind (except for a couple of trees), and human suffering is a result of taking more than was offered. The first murder is over the gifts given by Caine and Abel. Upon liberation from Egyptian slavery, God mandates a gift of the firstborn children (and cattle) from his chosen people. The Bible (both Old and New Testaments) assert numerous times that generosity will be rewarded. Zakat, or alms-giving, is one of the five pillars of Islam, and sadaqah (generous giving beyond the required 2.5%) is also encouraged as a means of gaining further divine favor.

Among the Greeks, it was believed that the knowledge possessed by humanity was a gift, for which Prometheus was continually punished by the other gods. According to Homer, the Trojan War began over a dispute over who was the proper recipient of a gift (the golden apple - "To the Fairest"). Native American tales are replete with gift-giving, often tied into the cycles of nature.

Even this brief overview makes it clear that the giving of gifts has a long and varied story woven throughout the narrative of human culture.

But until about two years ago, this story of giving had little influence on my own life. It wasn't that I never gave to charities, but it was that giving wasn't a regular part of my life. I occasionally dropped some money into a Salvation Army bucket at Christmas, or gave money when a charity called me, but that was it.

In the last couple of years, that's changed a lot. I now give money regularly to charities, and I feel (sometimes against all reason) as if rewards are coming into my life because of it, but ... is that enough? Why has giving become so important in history? Is there a way to put giving to the test, and see what happens when someone embraces giving as the central theme of their life?

These were the questions I began asking myself, and the answer I came up with is one that comes fairly naturally to someone who thinks logically and scientifically:

Test the hypothesis.

For 40 days, from February 17 through March 28, I will give away every cent of money that I earn. I will read about and study giving, across various cultures and religions, and try to find out what others have felt about it. I'll share my thoughts and record my experiences, and if any strange coincidences come up, those too will be documented

In this age, where ancient tales no longer guide us as they once did, it's incumbent upon us to individually explore the world to find out on our own how to behave morally. I think that giving is a good place to start.

My hope is that, by the end of it all, I'll have woven my own story into the narrative of human culture and, just maybe, convinced some other people to look into this whole "giving" thing.

Intrigued? Well, you can take part. Followers of this blog will have the opportunity to provide suggestions for gifts, offer their own stories, and maybe even receive some gifts of their own. More announcements along these lines will come in the following month, leading up to the start of the project on February 17.

I look forward to it. Are you?