Ten Percent

The Paradox of Generosity, part 3

The world gives you things you don’t pay for: air, blue skies, spring days, daffodils, sunsets – none of that is on a score chart, none of it is priced. You just get it for free. You get the company of other species around – songbirds, chipmunks, deer, geese, and bunnies – companion animal dogs and cats. None of them are keeping score. And when you give money or your time and energy away – which is to say, you transfer value without getting or expecting anything in return – you step off the scorekeeping ledger.

Of course, when it comes to your job, to paying for your needs, you’re going to be vigilant about being paid fairly and being charged a fair price. There are places in life where the scorekeeping needs to be exact so we can make sure it’s fair. But generosity practice says, “my relationship to my world isn’t going to be entirely that way. I’m going to also give to the world freely, as the world in so many ways gives to me freely. The world and I shall be as lovers, giving gifts to each other, the gift OF each other, not counting the costs.”

For our hearts know and our spirits long to realize that, indeed, "they who give have all things; they who withhold have nothing."

How much to give? General guideline: 10 percent or more of Adjusted Gross Income. That’s what the studies of generosity focus on. People who give away 10 percent or more have markedly greater well-being.

There are also deep cultural roots for 10 percent. Ancient Levitical law of Israel, for instance, says, “every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the Lord.” We might read “holy to the Lord” as “appropriate to be given up back to that sacred wide reality that created us and sustains us.” In Numbers, the “grain from the threshing floor or juice from the winepress” are included in the tenth-part to be given. The Ancient Israelites were directed to give their tithes to support the Levite priests, and also “the alien, the fatherless, the widow.”

In Islam, the zakat is more complicated – one-fortieth of all accumulated wealth, not just that year’s income, plus one-tenth of your production. In Sikhism, the Daswandh is the one tenth part of one's income that should be donated in the name of the God.

As your minister, charged with offering what guidance I can for your spiritual growth and development, I do recommend a practice of giving away 10 percent of adjusted gross income. It’s a profound and transforming practice. The heart and spirit don’t really grasp complicated math, but they can feel the significance of one-tenth – one finger of your hands. It’s enough so that you feel it, and feeling it is what opens the heart to joy, as the evidence shows.

I’m not saying give 10 percent to our congregation, though if that is what your heart calls you to do then bless you. The general Unitarian Universalist guideline is 2 or 3 percent of adjusted gross income to your congregation. As a deep and wonderful spiritual practice of generosity, it will do your soul good to give 10 percent or more: 2-3 percent to your congregation and the other 7-8 percent or more to charities you choose. I would suggest the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee for some of that – they are doing wonderful work in the world.

Unfortunately, data shows that only about 2.7 percent of Americans give away 10 percent of their income. That’s too bad. That’s 97 percent of us who give up that chance to be happier and healthier. Our national unhappiness and ungenerosity is no doubt part of what we’re seeing play out in the disturbing aspects of the presidential campaign. LoraKim and I have given away 10 percent of our income each year for the last decade, and this year we’re going to go more. It’s part of the joy of our lives – as it is for Martin Cizec, another of Smith and Davidson’s case studies. Martin
“is a Polish immigrant and his wife a daughter of Filipino immigrants. They live in a ‘typical’ suburban upper middle class area and have good jobs, a nice home and are financially secure. Martin gets that material goods are not the recipe for a good life. He has a sense of a larger purpose in life and is a little conflicted when it comes to materialism on one hand and contentment on the other. Martin donates money, blood, shows care for family, friends, is compassionate and is going to will his estate to charity. For him, purpose and happiness of life lie in helping others. So apart from giving away more than 20 percent of their income, he also volunteers, does random acts of charity, goes above and beyond in relational giving of his time and efforts. All in all, Martin’s source of happiness lies in large part in his generous lifestyle.”
Overall, conclude Smith and Davidson after exhaustive study and review of data, the more generous,
“tend to be more in control of their time and though very busy, they have less stress . . . They face life with contentment and a sense of gratitude in what they do have. They help others flourish. Not holding on to what they have, they face problems with fortitude, knowing that true happiness lies not in mere possessions, but in meaningful relationships, and in appreciating the beauty and abundance of the world.”
So may we all give it away – give our time, our talent, our treasure. For in giving away our life, we will receive it.

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This is part 3 of 3 of "The Paradox of Generosity"
See also
Part 1: Give It Away
Part 2: Generosity and the Need for Inexact Scorekeeping

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