One Glove and Ten Percent: Spiritual Practice of Generosity, 3

"You can't think and hit at the same time.
- Yogi Berra

For hitting, as for many action, we must rely on habits, so the formation of the habits we'll need is crucial. For that matter, even when there is time for reflection, the way we think is governed by the feelings and values formed as habit.

Consider the story I’ve heard of a woman getting off a subway train. As she readies for climbing the steps into the cold outside air, she reaches into the pockets of her coat for her gloves. She finds only one glove. The other must have fallen out of her pocket. She turns around and looks back into the subway car, and she can see the seat where she had been sitting, and, sure enough, there’s her other glove on the seat. But now the doors are closing. She won’t have time to get back in and retrieve her glove. The glove she has, she throws into the subway onto the seat next to its mate – just as the doors close.

I love that story. One glove isn’t going to do her much good, but somebody else can have the complete pair. That’s the reflex of a person who has cultivated generosity as a deep habit of being, a habit of the heart. It’s the reasonable thing to do, but if you rely on reason, the train will be long gone before you’ve worked it out. Random acts of kindness and senseless beauty flourish as the fruits of disciplined habit-formation that is not at all random or senseless.
"You know she must have lived a long life of generosity, a life of wild and creative generosity of spirit, to be able to think so quickly, to act so urgently and healthily, to know precisely in that moment what would bless the world right then and there. It happened in an instant, but that was planned giving through and through. Something in her past or everything in her past, prepared her for her gesture -- habits of living and giving practiced and refined her whole life long." (Terry Sweetser)
Think in Percents

As a piece of the happy discipline of generous giving, the piece that has to do with giving away our money, it will help to think in terms of percents. This gift comes from you. It is you, so place it in the context of your overall income. Are you giving away twenty percent? Ten percent? Five percent? Decide the percent first – what percent are you going to give away? Maybe this year it can be a higher percent than last year. Then do the math and figure out what dollar amount that comes to. Don’t start by thinking about a dollar amount. Start by thinking about a percent.

I know, questions arise. Percent of gross income or of net income, or what? I recommend using AGI – adjusted gross income – the line at the bottom of the first page of a 1040 form – where certain vital expenses are subtracted, but itemized or standard deductions are not. Adjusted Gross Income is the benchmark used by researchers into giving rates.

Naturally, you'll want to spend a bit more on ice cream than is shown here.
And what percent do you choose to give? The traditional percentage is 10 – that's the standard ten percent "tithe." The Torah, the central part of the Hebrew Bible, also known as the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), set forth law requiring that a tenth of all produce, flocks, and cattle be given to support the Levites, the priestly class in ancient Israel. The Torah also emphasized assistance to foreigners, orphans and widows, those in need, in addition to the tithe of support for the priestly class. The Christian Testament mentions no specific rules about tithing. Jesus is simply clear that we are obligated to be cheerfully generous to those in need.

The tithing rules in the Torah were based on the religious and social system of ancient Israel and on an agricultural economy. The Torah is not authoritative for us. Even it were, it does not address modern-day questions about what percentage we should give, how much to the church and how much to other charities, or whether to base it on gross income, net income, or wealth. Still, I do find there’s something psychologically significant about 10 percent – just move the decimal over one place, and that’s what you give away. If you’re just starting out with generosity practice, giving away 10 percent is a good start. Those who have been at it longer, or are better established in life can think about higher percentages.

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This is part 3 of 4 of "The Spiritual Practice of Generosity"
Click for other parts:
Part 1: Money Makes Mean?
Part 2: Mo Money Blues
Part 4: Give It Away!

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