Friday, November 13, 2009

"I found it hard to give away what I had earned"

Yesterday I blogged about Karen Armstrong's Charter for Compassion, an attempt to rally both the interfaith and secular communities around a unifying concept.  Today I want to talk about an extraordinary book that builds on the same concept and  links it to generosity in action.  The book is Being Generous, by Ted Malloch.

Malloch, who comes from the Christian faith, describes how generosity has manifested through various faiths and specific people.  What makes it especially powerful is his description of his own journey from self-described narcissism to compassion: "It never came easy.  I have always had a "meritocratic" outlook.  That get what you earn, what you deserve....I found it hard - often very hard - to give what I had earned away."

Being Generous weaves personal narrative with a brief description of the injunction to generosity in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Native American and Aboriginal spiritualism, Confucianism, and secularism.

He then weaves in stories about an exceptional mosaic of givers, both big and small, well-known and obscure.  The diversity of personalities, viewpoints, and displays of generosity is arresting, and makes it clear that religion is not the sole motivator of generosity.  The vignettes range from Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Skoll, and John Templeton to surprising stories about figures such as Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn.  Malloch also highlights many lesser known and smaller donors, including six donors to projects on GlobalGiving (to which royalties from of the book are being donated).

In the end, Malloch, despite being a strong personality with strong views, is interested in commonalities, not differences.  This is something he shares with Karen Armstrong.  This is what makes this book and the Charter for Compassion, so appealing.

Spending time with people as diverse as Ted Malloch and Karen Armstrong has been one of the great pleasures of my life since leaving the World Bank some nine years ago. I used to have much less time for people with whose political and aesthetic views I disagreed.  But when those views are connected through the shared value of compassion and generosity, the apparent contradictions become a source of creativity rather than conflict - something the world is crying out for these days.