Since leaving the hustle and bustle of the corporate world nearly 15 years ago, it’s not often, if ever, that I find myself perusing the Business and Industry section of the local bookstores or library as I once did regularly when searching for a good non-fiction read. Long gone are those rainy summer weekends spent completely immersed in the latest biography of a rising, success-driven entrepreneur or the machinations of rival tech start-ups competing for market share.
These days, if it doesn’t have relevance to my life-path on either a personal, soul-based level, or a theme of a “big picture” nature, such as social issues or the environment, chances are that it won’t make it into my hands.
How surprised then was I last week that, after spending the good part of an afternoon at the Montauk Library conducting research for an upcoming column, I left with a business-related book in hand. I was literally halfway out the front door of the building before stopping a moment to readjust the padding in one of my shoes. In order to gain some balance while lifting my leg, I supported myself by reaching over to the display of donated books in the entrance foyer. No sooner had I rectified the footwear issue than a fairly unassuming paperback seemingly jumped off the revolving rack and screamed, “Read me, now!”
The timing could not have been better, as its title, “Give and Take,” aligns with the topic of this month’s column. But interestingly enough, the book’s subtitle, “Why Helping Others Drives Our Success,” was what initially piqued my interest, and ultimately led to my taking it home.
As someone who has grown up in a family (both immediate and extended), filled with nurses, teachers, social workers, volunteer firefighters and the like, I haven’t had to look far to see substantive examples of “givers” who’ve chosen respectable, if not altruistic occupations to earn their living. I like to think that it’s been the bedrock, if not the common thread, that continues to course its way through the last three generations of our tight-knit, albeit prodigious tribe.
The author of this cutting-edge New York Times best-seller is The Wharton School’s highest-rated and youngest full professor, Adam Grant. He states, rather convincingly, “It’s tempting to reserve the ‘giver’ label for larger-than-life heroes such as Mother Teresa or Mahatma Gandhi, but being a giver doesn’t require extraordinary acts of sacrifice. It just involves a focus on acting in the interests of others, such as by giving help, providing mentoring, sharing credit, or making connections for others.”
Throughout the book, in an easy-to-read style using laymen’s terms, Mr. Grant cites in detail numerous case studies (primarily in business and work-place relations), that illustrate the effectiveness of implementing the “giver” approach, versus others such as “takers” and “matchers.” He adds, “If you’re a giver at work, you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skill, ideas, and connections with other people who can benefit from them.”
Contrary to conventional expectations, he goes on to explain how it manages to produce some of the most successful leaders; cutting across all categories of industry.
I’ve never been a big fan of the zero-sum theory (whereby someone’s gain is the direct result of another’s loss). Maybe that’s why I found Mr. Grant’s research and findings not only to be compelling, but also refreshingly hopeful and enlightening.
There are no shortage of corporations and organizations these days whose reputations have been sullied due to their “win-at-all-cost” mentality, in addition to a political arena that’s become so pervasive with an “all-or-nothing” mantra, to the point where an ever-increasing block of the electorate has chosen to tune out, if not avoid casting a ballot altogether. How such an advanced society as ours has arrived at this pivotal crossroad, I’ll leave up to the countless media pundits and think-tankers to pontificate amongst themselves and across the airwaves.
There are plenty of everyday methods that apply the giver style of social interaction, without the need for reciprocity. Volunteering, mentoring, or simply “being there” for someone to speak with, especially during times of difficulty and struggle, are all practical examples of putting the needs of others before one’s own. Giving doesn’t need to exist independently as an ideal “circumstance” or setting for its effectiveness to be realized; it can be innocuous, often with little or no recognition involved.
One of many ways in which I’ve personally tried to promote a more giving environment takes place daily in my preschool class. In addition to providing children ample opportunities to learn during active play, an essential component of our curriculum includes the availability of reading material, coupled with the encouragement and support for the free-flowing, open-ended verbal exchanges that take place during planned readings. Numerous studies corroborate this practice, as it serves to provide a foundation for creative self-expression and a myriad of other cognitive developmental functions.
The choices a parent or teacher makes when selecting which books to read when he or she wants to convey a particular message is an intentional process. One of the classics from my own childhood that continues to be universally recognized decades later is Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree.” Though flawed in many respects (it has garnered its share of controversy over the 50+ years of existence, with some claiming it to be subversive, misogynistic, and a complete indictment of our social and environmental excesses), it does capture the essence of personal sacrifice and unselfish giving; albeit to an extreme.
It would be difficult to find a more touching example of selflessness than to view on YouTube Dr. Wayne Dyer’s retelling of a piece he affectionately refers to as “The Shaya Story.” Pulled from his best-selling book titled “The Power of Intention,” he shares with the PBS audience a sequence of events which take place on a schoolyard baseball field that caters to learning-disabled children. Not only does the story’s message appear to transcend all expectations; it is sure to leave you reaching for the box of tissues each and every time.
Dave Davis teaches preschool for the Head Start program at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, and does much of his writing at Ditch Plains in Montauk. Two of his pieces appear in the 2016 anthology “On Montauk: A Literary Celebration.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.