Happy Thanksgiving! I recently learned that when the Puritans landed in Massachusetts, they discovered that the Indians had a strange feeling about the giving and receiving of gifts. Having experienced nothing like it, they misunderstood it, ran it down. In 1764, when Thomas Hutchinson wrote his history of the colony, he explained that the already old expression “Indian gift” meant “a present for which an equivalent return is expected.” Over the years, the term became broader and even more degraded–an “Indian giver” is someone who gives a gift only to ask for it back. What the Indians understood ( I learned all this in The Gift by Lewis Hyde) is that gifts must keep moving!
Giving can be a way of experiencing ourselves as a conduit for the finer energy that holds the world together. Giving food, goods or service, sharing wisdom and insight, being kind to another, such acts can help us glimpse our interconnection with others and with the whole of life. Everyone from Jesus to Buddha to Jeanne de Salzmann has indicated that this is our highest human identity. In our current issue, young aspiring “generosity entrepreneur” Nipun Mehta reminds us that true giving begins not when we think we have piled up enough surplus to give “but when we have nothing left to take. ” My new friends Nipun Mehta, Birju Pandya, and Paul Van Slambrouck, whom I met at the Parabola offices in New York a month or so ago, inspire me to believe that giving is the most enlightened act a person can engage in this life. It is the antidote to fear, miserliness, greed, and lonely, miserable Scrooge-like isolation.
Four times a year, Parabola gives people a banquet of this kind of food for thought, themes and truths that appear in all traditions and ways. Now Parabola needs your gifts if we are to keep on giving. Please consider making a donation of money or time now so that we can keep on offering a banquet of food for thought four times a year.