Almost every Bold Life reaches an altruistic critical mass where giving back becomes a moral imperative. From the philanthropy of Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, and Jeff Bezos to ordinary men and women who willingly give their resources, time, and kindness in helping others, giving back serves as a balancing of the karmic scales, with generosity becoming a kind of “thank you” to the universe. Giving back is beneficial to the giver, too. The philosopher Aristotle proposed (read: Nicomachean Ethics) that happiness is achieved by cultivating one’s virtues. Generosity, being one of these virtues, offers a path towards the achievement of happy, meaningful, and purposeful lives.
But while giving back offers a path towards happiness, giving too much (i.e., the idea of “giving until it hurts”) can be a pitfall that must be avoided. The more you give, the happier you become, right? Wrong. Giving until it hurts is far from being generous. Aristotle said that the virtue of generosity is finding the balance between the vices of stinginess (deficiency) and wastefulness (excessiveness). Lean too far towards either end and giving becomes toxic and unhealthy. And that’s bad.
When Giving Back Goes Wrong
Donating to a charity can be rewarded, but what if that concept is taken to the extreme? What if someone were to give all their possessions and resources to charity? What if someone were to become dependent on the charity they received, to the point where it superseded their desire to help themselves? Let’s look at the tell-tale signs of how giving can go wrong:
- Giving is no longer based on altruism. When giving starts to feel like an obligation and a way to seek validation, and less like something done out of the kindness of your heart, then we are looking at a case of giving that has gone awry.
- Giving is beginning to cause degradation of character. When this happens, expect things to go downhill from this point. The generosity that ceases to inspire gratitude, hope, and camaraderie will begin to breed dependence (from the receiver) and resentment (from the giver). Clearly, giving has become unhealthy for both parties.
- Giving has become unsustainable for your resources. All forms of resources – money, time, courtesy, respect, and service are not finite. Giving is wrong when the giver is worn-out, not just in resources but most significantly, in spirit. When the joy in giving is missing, giving has gone down the wrong path.
Creating Healthy Boundaries
Clearly, toxic giving stems from upsetting the balance between stinginess and wastefulness. How do you achieve balance? How do you practice correct giving?
First, you need to assess if your help is really needed. For example, in a work setting, jumping at every opportunity to help a colleague is depriving them of the chance to develop their own skills and character. And worse, you are breeding dependency.
Step back, do not fall into the trap of being the office superhero.
Second, defining how much resources you are willing and able to give is also critical. You are helping yourself define boundaries by being specific in the number of resources you can provide. Once the boundaries have been set, be firm and do not allow anyone to overstep the line.
Giving back is an excellent virtue. Humanity can always use kindness and generosity to improve itself. But if you’re going to pursue this facet of Bold Living, do it with healthy boundaries.