Technology + Education + New Media
The fireplace gives off a warm glow as family and friends gather around the tree to exchange stories and gifts. The blush on the faces of the children has less to do with the warmth from the fire place and more to do with the excitement of the holidays. Their parents and retail outlets have spent months planning and mountains of cash preparing for the holidays. It has become a commercialized mammoth that sends people scurrying to the malls to fight to death for the last Barbie at the big black Friday sale.
In the chaos that follows Thanksgiving dinner, people become so focused on getting the best deals, or finding the perfect gift that they lose sight of the reason for the season. The focus has become primarily material goods, but the most precious gifts are not available at Black Friday sales. They are not sold in stores. A monetary value cannot be placed on these gifts, they are priceless. People are missing out on the true joy of the holiday season, the joy of giving.
The true reason for the season is giving. When you give, you automatically receive. Giving has this ripple effect that spreads well beyond the giver and the receiver. The person that is affected by your gift then affects the lives of others that they touch. The act of giving is a simple concept whose power is often underestimated. The smallest gesture can leave a tidal wave of change in its wake.
One of the more unique aspects of giving is its effects on the giver. We all know how the act of giving can impact the receiver. We can see the smile on a child’s face who has received gifts for Christmas. We know the appreciation and relief on a parents face when their electric bill has been paid, or a roof has been placed over their heads. What we often miss is the effect giving has on the giver, and the lives that are subsequently touched by the ripples that follow.
People give for a variety of reasons. Some give out of a sense of civic responsibility, others give and volunteer as part of their church or organization, still others give simply out of the goodness of their hearts. If you ask someone why they give or volunteer they will inevitably answer, “Because it’s the right thing to do, or because it makes me feel good.” Giving is a great thing to do and it does make you feel good. People who give have a much brighter outlook on life; they are more optimistic and tend to see the good in every situation. Giving also has the power to heal, and the ability to restore faith.
Rachel, from Texas is an example of how the ripple effect works. She is a member of an online forum called Reddit. She joined a sub-community there called RAOK (random acts of kindness). She was touched by the random acts of giving and kindness she witnessed on the site. Rachel works full time and is a full time student. She does not have much to give in the way of time or material goods, but she was inspired to try. She found her way to give was through her hobby. Rachel knits in her free time, and gives her labors of love to people who need them. Rachel said, “I like knowing that it is someone I’ve never met before, and probably never will. I sent a neckwarmer I made to a guy in the UK. Some stranger thousands of miles away from me is wearing something I spent hours making with my hands, some yarn, and two sticks. It is such a simple, humbling thought, but I like knowing that there is one person who is a little bit more snuggly, a little bit more warm, just because I gave a bit of my time and money.” The ripple effect of giving inspired Rachel and countless others to join the community and to partake in the act of giving. The community boasts nearly 5000 registered members, with random acts of kindness occurring on a daily basis. When asked how giving makes her feel Rachel said, “I guess it’s like a hot air balloon. Quietly optimistic, lifting me up little by little, reminding me of good things, done by imperfect people, for myriad reasons”. The community has granted a number of Christmas wishes this year, spawning a new sub-community called random acts of Christmas. The sub-community gained more than 700 members in less than a month.
If communities such as Random Acts of Kindness, and Wish upon a Hero are any indication the act of giving may be both addictive and contagious. Emily K. is a member of Wish Upon A Hero, a community where individuals can post a wish for anything, and other individuals may choose to be a hero by granting their wish. Wishes range from things as simple as a pen pal, to pleas for help with rent, food, and medical bills. The site has granted nearly 86,000 wishes since its humble beginning in 2009. When asked what drew her to the site Emily said, “It is more than an opportunity to donate to a charity; it is a chance to be someone’s hero. It is more personal than writing a check and often times there is the bonus gift of actually receiving photos and letters of thanks from those who received help”. With thousands of members and growing every day sites such as these provide people with an opportunity to experience the joy of giving from the comfort of their home.
The opportunities to give are all around us, especially during the holidays. Toys for Tots, The Angel Tree Program, Samaritans Purse, and Youth Villages Holiday Heroes are just a few of the local programs with growing needs each year. This year has been a particularly difficult year for organizations. With the hit to the economy, there are more in need than ever before and fewer people available to fill those needs.
Karen M. of Memphis decided to give a little closer to home. She is a volunteer with Youth Villages and participates in their Holiday Heroes program each year. She has been volunteering for the past four years both individually and through her job at FedEx. Karen’s reasons for volunteering are of a personal nature. She had a less than perfect childhood, and never had a family of her own. She thought if she could volunteer her time, and make a small difference in the life of a child it might give them hope. She found that through giving children hope, she recovered some of her own.
When asked how giving has affected her Karen said, “I’m not sure because you never really know what impact you’ve had on a child. The seed you planted sometimes doesn’t bear any fruit for a while. Not having any immediate feedback would cause some volunteers to quit or lose interest. For me, it’s a passion and while at times I am not able to go every month – I am still very committed. The one thing it causes me to do is to change my priorities – to make time to go each month to plan the activities to go the extra mile because these kids are counting on me and the others whether they realize it or not. So I guess it has changed me or I should say I am a “work in progress”, the change is on-going.” Karen has also seen the ripple effects that her giving has created. Due to her commitment to Youth Villages she has inspired her peers at work to give and volunteer as well. Her Holiday Heroes campaign at work saw a 35% increase in donations, and she has been able to steadily increase the volunteer base through her passion for giving. For Karen giving is a way of life and not just something she does for the holidays.
A common question asked this time of the year is, “What did you get for Christmas?” you rarely hear people ask, “What did you give this year?” There are many ways in which a person can give. You can volunteer through local community charities, or grant wishes through online forums such as Wish upon a Hero. No act is too small, and even the simplest of gestures can change lives. What will you give this year?
The best gift that anyone can receive is the gift of joy; we can receive this gift by giving selflessly of ourselves, our time, and our resources. The rewards of giving come from the act itself. The beautiful thing about giving is that it builds upon itself; it spreads across the lives of people, and trickles down into our communities leaving joy, optimism, and hope in its wake. You don’t have to let giving begin and end with the holidays. Make giving a part of every day, and invite joy into your life.