Back in the 1800s, a U.S. politician dropped out of a Senate race so that another candidate could win. He was second in the polls, but he was trailing a corrupt rival who he believed would hurt his state. So, he sacrificed his own career to support the third-place candidate who rose from 9% to 51% to take the election. This politician’s name was Abraham Lincoln.
In his bestseller Give and Take, Adam Grant explains three categories of people in the world: givers (like Abraham Lincoln), takers, and matchers. On this spectrum, givers give more than they take, takers take more than they give, and matchers reciprocate more evenly. He then poses two questions: Who is the least successful in society, and who is the most successful? The answer to both—givers. Givers are the least successful because they can become like doormats and burn out when they, say, sacrifice their Senate election for the common good. However, givers are also the Abraham Lincoln’s of the world who genuinely enjoy putting the interests of others ahead of themselves and then succeed as a by-product. Givers are the teachers who believe in their students’ potential no matter their intelligence test scores. Givers are the co-workers who are “willing to do something that will take [them] five minutes or less for anybody” (the Five-Minute Favor). And givers unintentionally benefit themselves by seeking the benefit of others. We need more givers in our world. Luckily, we can create more.
Let’s see how Freecycle became a giver-generator. Freecycle is a crowd-sourced website where people give and take unneeded items for free. Someone’s trash becomes another’s treasure. Most users join Freecycle for the appeal of free things, but even takers end up giving over nine items on average on the site. “What drives people to join a group with the intention of taking, but then end up giving?” Grant concludes that, often, giving motivates giving. Then, once we identify ourselves as givers and start changing our behaviors, our attitudes and mindsets follow. The book Atomic Habits shares a similar premise that our identities shape the smallest micro-habits, which become lifelong characteristics. Aristotle’s virtue ethics also philosophizes that cultivating virtuous habits is what creates virtuous people. C.S. Lewis would concur—we can learn to love deeper by doing acts of love even when our hearts are not there yet.
Being a giver is a choice. We can become a giver by transforming our daily habits. We decide in a split moment whether to give a Five-Minute Favor or offer an item on Freecycle. As Christians, we choose everyday to love our neighbor as ourselves and to be humbly patient. Being a giver is also a blessing. Grant finds that “givers dominate the top of the success ladder.” God says that givers will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way. And the giving spirit spreads. A co-worker surprises us with fresh scones, and we want to pay it forward. A friend listens to our last heartbreak, and we want to celebrate when they find love. We can all be givers by changing our habits. We can all be givers by remembering Christ’s grace. Why not be the first to start a trend of giving in your community?