Seven Questions On Giving Time
Posted by Nipun Mehta on Dec 7, 2007
Healing Life Styles and Spa Magazine recently interviewed me about the merits of giving the gift of time over money. I've never read the magazine but the topic was definitely interesting.
Here are my seven answers to their seven questions:
1. How is spending time on gifts more beneficial than spending money?
In the moment when we spend money for others, there is the deep joy of expressing gratitude, of imagining the recipient's delight and of silently recognizing our interconnection. It's beautiful. Yet, it only lasts for that moment. Instead, when you give time and allow yourself space to experience the process, you witness a long series of those joyous moments. If spending money is generosity, spending time is like generosity on steroids. :)
2. Can you please provide some examples of how to spend time? How are these just as rewarding (if not more rewarding) as purchasing a gift?
The minute my mom gets invited to a baby-shower, she'll start knitting two receiving blankets -- one for the child to be born, and another one as an anonymous gift for an unknown newborn in an underprivileged neighborhood. Practically every mom who receives the baby-shower gift, with a handwritten story about the fate of the twin-blanket, is in tears. And so is my mom. Yes, you can buy a blanket from the store, but when you've spent your own time, when you have spent hours wishing well for a child the world hasn't even seen, it create a deep strand of connection that is fulfilling for both the receiver and the giver.
3. How can the art of giving be carried out beyond the holiday season and used year round?
In our agenda-driven lives, we often forget that gift giving is innate to the human experience and it can be giving season everyday! Simple acts of service are always open to us, if we simply look for them. Even otherwise, birthday makes for a great excuse for pay-it-forward experiments! For my cousin's 10th birthday, he called a dozen of his friends for a "Super-Soaker Sunday" party; they ran around and played with water all morning. And then, in the afternoon, we held a "free car wash". The kids drew some banners, made up slogans to chant on the streets, split up into pre-rinse, soap, rinse and drying teams, and had a ton of fun. Inevitably onlookers asked, "So why exactly are you doing this?" "Oh, it's my friend's birthday and we're practicing generosity." Needless to say, all the car owners, the parents, the kids -- everyone -- had a memorable day!
4. With busy schedules and limited time, how much time do you think should be dedicated to shared family/friend time to reap the benefits?
More than the amount of time, the sincerity with which we spend our time is far more important. I remember a friend of mine giving me a gift of a story one time -- driving up the freeway tollbooth, the driver behind him became very visibly upset thinking that he had cut him off. He could've yelled back, but when it was time to pay the toll, he instead paid toll for that car behind him! "That's my contribution to peace," he proudly remarked. Underneath that story was a subtle transformation of two lives, and that was much more valuable than a Macy's gift card.
Giving time doesn't necessarily take more "time"; rather it requires a shift in one's mindset. The simplest thing everyone can give is the gift of a commitment to a value -- practice meditation daily, work out three times a week, donate money to a charity every month, whatever it is.
5. If someone isn't very creative, how can he or she find ways to experience the benefits of spending time with others?
When you give someone a gift of time, they won't check the fabric on the tie or the brand of the toaster or the memory on the iPod. No. Instead, they will await the story of your transformation, smile at the honesty of your voice, and give you a hug no matter what. What you may lose in creativity, you make up for in sincerity.
We had a friend who loves to talk; most people don't have the patience for her monologues or tirades. For her birthday, though, one of my friends just went to listen to her. Truly listen. The following day, he wrote up a full-page thank-you note about all the things he had learned from that conversation. And at the end, he simply wrote, "Happy 60th Birthday!"
6. How are these ideas more memorable than spending money?
When we give the gift of time, the ideas grow into stories. Our xBoxes will need to be upgraded and our Ralph Lauren shirts will eventually wither, but our stories will be a continuously refreshing reminder of our interconnection with the abundance of life.
I remember visiting India when I was 13 or so; riding on my friend's mini-motorcycle, my stomach felt a bit queasy and we stopped. I started vomiting. A passerby, who seemed to be a poor man riding on his bicycle, stopped to give me a lemon. As I sucked on the lemon and felt better, I noticed that man on the bicycle was already on his way. No hi, no bye, just raw kindness. Surely, that half a lemon will stay with me a lot longer than anything I can buy at the mall.
7. Anything else you think needs to be said about spending time and not money.
Giving money has a price. Giving time is priceless.