Monday, 14 January 2013

Giving without losing.

If a shepherd gives away three of his fifty sheep, he has a smaller flock than he began with.

When a greengrocer gives away half his apples as free samples, there's less in his shop than there was when he opened that morning.

Should a millionaire give away half her fortune, her bank account would be less flush than it was.

It goes without saying that there are some things in life - sheep, apples, money for example - whose quantity diminishes as you distribute them. I give to you, then you have some of what I had, while I now have less.

But of course there are other things which don't leave us worse off when we give them away. I've typed this message, for instance, which is now on your computer or phone. But it's also still on my mine. If you recorded a version of The Yellow Rose of Texas on your ukulele and sent me an MP3 (Thanks. Just what I always wanted.) we'd both have copies.

So, thank goodness some would say, the idea of depletion through giving-away falls apart in the digital world. It's a principle, after all, which is part of what underpins the information revolution, but as a matter of fact it's nothing new.

Consider my Exhibit H: Help. If you give me your help, do you somehow have less of it to give? Well, not really. Help is a mysterious resource which can be given, or not, in a seemingly infinite range of amounts - without taking anything away from us.

Giving lots of help may of course tire us - even overload us at times. Broadly, however, giving your help doesn't cost you. In fact it's even better than that, as it could even leave your emotional bank balance better off than it was. Helping others can make you feel good in and of itself, and what's not to like about that?

I imagine there won't be too many opportunities to give away sheep today. So why not think about giving away some of your help?