Skip to product information
1 of 1



I've noticed in the many ways in which I try to encourage the spirit of generosity in my son as an antidote to the way his ego naturally expresses itself by indulging in selfishness. I thank him when he buses the family's dishes to the sink after a meal. I beam at him and point out how kind and thoughtful he was for noticing that someone had dropped their glove and returning it to them.

In a functioning society, the act of giving is placed higher than that of receiving. To receive something to one's advantage may be considered natural or instinctual; and because of that, is considered "lower" in executive function than to give. But with that perspective, it can feel like a tricky line to walk, because the ego -- learning that generosity and service is valuable currency for social acceptance -- can just as easily use these to further its own gain, couldn't it?

I think about what Ram Dass had said of his work with people who are dying: "I must tell you that it’s a very seductive power to be doing good for other people."

And I think he's right. I've fallen into the "white savior" trope myself for the volunteer work I did as a young adult in the Global South. I felt embarrassed for it afterwards and have spent the better part of the last fifteen years over-analyzing every act of service, activism, or giving that I engaged in with questions like:

  • "Is this really kindness?"
  • "What is my real motivation behind getting involved?"
  • "Am I the right person to be performing it?"
  • "Should I just do nothing so they don't mistake my intention?"

As annoyingly time-consuming and energy-draining these mental cartwheels have been, they have been absolutely necessary for me to get a better feel for when generosity comes from a place of innocence, "from the soul" so to speak, and when it comes from a place of obligation or ego.

I might still engage in both, but those that come from innocence is where there is the most powerful potential for connection. On service, Ram Dass continues to say that in performing an act of good for others, "If you are awake to what your predicament is, all the good you are doing to other people is nothing other than work on yourself. It is not an ‘either/or’ position."

A single act becomes not just good for someone else, it is -- in fact -- good for me, too. In this act of generosity borne of my self-awareness and the awareness of another, there is no distinction between the giver and the receiver. I think that's how selflessness manifests in the world. To be selfless in this sense isn't really thinking only of another person, or not thinking of oneself. It's to completely do away with the definition of a distinct self at all. It's to remove any perception of separation between two beings. There is no one helping an other. There is only the act that is both giving and receiving.


View full details