The "Selfishness" of Giving

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.


No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main….
any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne

Virtue is its own reward, so the saying goes. Our lives should be characterised by generosity driven not by self-interest, but by compassion.

However, human life is riddled with paradox. The practice of generosity reveals one of the most profound of all paradoxes.

Those who practice generosity discover deep inner satisfaction. While the thrill of buying things for oneself often fades quickly, the joy generated by acts of kindness provides a long-lasting inner glow.

Generosity builds character, and strong character attracts love and respect.

In short, the very thing that feels like a small death to self, helps marshall that which the human heart most needs: satisfaction, self-esteem, respect and love. Greed and self-centredness shrink the human soul and drive away love and respect.

How crazy a paradox is that!?

This crazy paradox means generosity is “selfish” in one way. It generates far more joy and life satisfaction than self-centred living ever can.

Another reason generosity is paradoxically “selfish” is reflected by John Donne’s famous line: “no man is an island”. The ripple effect of our lives touches the whole pond of human existence. We can make the world a better and kinder place for ourselves and our families… or a worse one… by our attitudes and choices.

So how does this relate to Australian Aid?

Just as individuals develop character, so countries develop a national “character”. Being a generous country is something to take pride in: selfishness ultimately becomes a source of shame.

It is also true that our generosity as a nation makes the world a better place, and because nations are so interdependent, peace and prosperity in the global community ultimately benefits us.

OECD research tells us that inequality is a huge barrier to economic growth. In particular, investment in schooling for poor communities not only lifts individuals out of poverty, it lifts whole countries out of poverty. Well targeted Australian aid positively impacts the economic growth of our trading partners. And that impacts our farmers, our manufacturers, our educators and our whole economy.

Inequality contributes to conflict, and is a major cause of instability and the refugee crisis impacting many parts of our world.

Right now we are on the brink of eliminating polio from the face of the earth... just as the world eliminated smallpox in 1980. We are making great strides in reducing the incidence of AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. Reducing the incidence of such diseases protects us as Australians in a world where so much international travel is occurring.

This is not the time to pull back from our push to eliminate such horrible diseases from the earth. Now is not the time to pull back from educating poor children. Now is not the time to pull back from contributing our fair share to global development. It's time to honour our commitments to the UN and to the international community to make the world a more prosperous, safe and fair place for all.

I am proud as an Australian of what Australian Aid has already achieved, and I’d like to be prouder still of our generosity as a nation. Check out to find out how you can become involved in creating the kind of nation of which we can be genuinely proud.

Questions for reflection:

Think about generous people you know. What do you notice about their character, their friendships, and their lives?

Think about self-centred people you know. How does their selfishness impact the lives of those around them? Their own lives? Their character?

What do you notice about the "Australian character"? What can we be most proud of as Australians? Do most Australians value fairness and generosity?

St. Francis once said "for it is in giving that we receive". What do we receive when we give?

What other thoughts are sparked for you by this article? What might you do about this?


Anonymous said…
Your post doesn't make me want to agree or disagree, as you ask at the bottom there; it just makes me want to join you in reflecting and pondering on all the questions you ask and points you make. A little like just having had a cuppa together, where we open up many topics, throw around a few ideas, and then rush back to busy lives… Nice! :-) Ali of ze Alps
Janet Woodlock said…
How lovely to hear from Ali of Ze Alps! I might have to draft a different question...

How about: "What other thoughts are triggered for you by this reflection?

Popular posts from this blog

Precedent to Precept

Rebranding Hierarchy

The World According to Complementarians