There is something about an anonymous gift that brings special joy to both the giver and the receiver. For the person getting the gift, it makes you feel like the whole world cares, that around any corner is the person who cared enough to make your life special. And to the giver, it strips off all the status and pride and self-satisfaction you may get from a public gift and, with the lusciousness of a secret, fills you with love and gratitude that you are in a position to make a difference.
Consider this delightful story about a somewhat anonymous giver, call him George Walker, and his gift to a young boy in the Philippines.
I want to be your new pen pal.
I am an old man, 77 years old, but I love kids; and though we have not met I love you already.
I live in Texas – I will write you from time to time – Good Luck. G. Walker”
Now, after President Bush’s death, we have learned that he was George Walker, but look at how much joy is in his writing when it is semi-anonymous. He is embracing the true spirit of giving.
For more on anonymous giving, take a look at this feature I wrote on anonymous giving filled with inspiring stories.
What are some things you might do anonymously to spread your love?
Consider the inspiring story of Amanda Southworth, a teen who attempted suicide seven times but then went on to use her experience to create an app to help others facing debilitating depression. Amanda explained what helped her make that transition:
What saved her: a sixth-grade robotics club in 2011, which introduced her to the possibilities of technology and inspired her to soak up knowledge about web development and artificial intelligence from the internet and textbooks.
Her first app, AnxietyHelper, a mental health resource guide, debuted in the app store in September 2015 during her ninth-grade Latin class. Her excited classmates downloaded it, and she finished the day with 18 users. Even that small achievement gave her belief in her own power and a sense of purpose, Southworth says.
“I was always very destructive toward myself. Coding is the opposite. It’s about creating. It’s about taking different characters on a keyboard and transforming them into something bigger than you,” she said.
In May 2017, she launched a mobile app called Verena for the LGBTQ community after friends were bullied in the tense political climate around the presidential election. Verena, which means protector in German, locates hospitals, shelters and police stations and users can create a list of contacts to be alerted in an emergency.
“Everything in my life has shown me that both good and bad things in this world will continue to happen and that’s out of our control. But it’s what we do with the things that happen to us that can make all of the difference,” she said in a TedX talk last November in Pasadena, California. “My name is Amanda Southworth, I’m 15 years old, a junior in high school and I’m still alive.”
Southworth’s conclusion that “it’s what we do with the things that happen to us that can make all of the difference” is profound. Each of us faces challenges and hardships. But each of us also has the ability to use our experiences to make a contribution for others, to make our lives count.
What’s your contribution?
How much do we really know about the people we see day to day? Sometimes we may inadvertently consider the people around us extras in the movie about our own life rather than complicated individuals with their own stories, hopes, and dreams.
In this remarkable TED talk, Dave Isay shares how he came up with StoryCorp, an attempt to preserve the stories of whole generations of people, including the forgotten and overlooked people in our society.
I wanted to try somethingwhere the interview itself was the purpose of this work, and see if we could give many, many, many people the chance to be listened to in this way. So in Grand Central Terminal 11 years ago, we built a booth where anyone can come to honor someone else by interviewing them about their life. You come to this booth and you’re met by a facilitator who brings you inside.You sit across from, say, your grandfather for close to an hour and you listen and you talk. Many people think of it as, if this was to be our last conversation, what would I want to ask of and say to this person who means so much to me?
He talks about how he looks back on the recorded interview he made with his own, now passed, father and reflects on how vital it is to ask the questions and record the answers. Have we taken the time to ask our parents and grandparents about what life was like when they were young? What their hopes and dreams were. Who mattered to them and why. What they are most proud of and what lessons they have learned.
Imagine how much richer our own histories would be if we could hear about the hopes and dreams of the relatives who came before us. Imagine how much richer our cultural history would be if it were informed by so many perspectives.
He issues an invitation to us all:
At this moment, when so much of how we communicate is fleeting and inconsequential, join us in creating this digital archive of conversations that are enduring and important. Help us create this gift to our children, this testament to who we are as human beings. I hope you’ll help us make this wish come true. Interview a family member, a friend or even a stranger. Together, we can create an archive of the wisdom of humanity, and maybe in doing so, we’ll learn to listen a little more and shout a little less. Maybe these conversations will remind us what’s really important. And maybe, just maybe, it will help us recognize that simple truth that every life, every single life, matters equally and infinitely.
Every life, every single life, matters equally and infinitely.
Sure, living generously blesses those who receive your gift. But giving also blesses you as it reminds you that you can make a difference, that you have purpose, and that no one is as equipped to meet the particular challenge in front of you in this place and time, as you.
The Japanese Macaques, snow monkeys, are a deeply hierarchical society, their status in the group inherited from their mothers. Living in frigid temperatures, the upper class snow monkeys spend their time in natural hot springs, leaving the rest to huddle in the snow and look on as they luxuriate. The Emperor Penguins also live in frigid conditions, huddled together, but they constantly rotate, letting those most exposed on the outside come to the center for warmth. They take turns. It keeps those in the center from overheating and those on the fringes from freezing.
Sharing is an interesting phenomenon. It’s easy to see that when a society shares its resources, the whole group benefits, but how does that play out in the human species? Do we see the benefit to the whole group from sharing what we have, or do we focus on clutching more and more into our own fists? Some humans are uniquely able, it seems, to rationalize selfish behavior even when looking directly at the needs of others. But others consider their own resources an opportunity to help others. This is true both on an individual level, and on a larger societal level. It’s an interesting matter of perspective.
Some snow monkeys, some penguins. Which are you?