True Wealth

I watched a video recently in which a very famous writer was spitting mad that someone would ask him to do something for free. His argument made perfect sense: the people asking him to do this thing for free were getting paid, why shouldn’t he be paid? He detested the idea of giving anything away, and amateurs, he went on, who did do things for free were only ruining it for professionals like him.

Contrast this with James Bach, a lecturer and software tester whose business model is to do things for free all the time. Eventually, he explained to me, people offer to pay him for his services, and when they do, they pay him well. I like this approach more than the famous writer’s, as Bach’s key principle is the power of generosity. Both men, it seems to me, will make plenty of money, but only one of them is likely to enjoy it.

Desiring wealth is perfectly natural—healthy even. Everyone on earth deserves to be wealthy. However, I do not think you will ever experience wealth unless you live generously. That is, no matter how much money you have in the bank, if you do not perceive life’s inherent abundance, you will only become more and more conscious of how you might lose whatever it is you have. No amount of money can insulate you against the belief that there isn’t enough to go around.

Generosity does not mean donating to every charity that crosses your prow. What the act of donating to charities can do for some people is to remind the giver that there is enough in the world for everyone, and that more is always coming. That is the source of true wealth. And generosity extends far beyond the checkbook. Listening, for instance, is free and remains one of the most generous acts possible.

Somaly Mam, whose charity rescues girls who have been sold into Cambodian brothels, told me that while she constantly needs money, she would prefer never to be given anything out of guilt. Love, she said, is more valuable. When you give out of obligation, whether your time or money, the guilt you feel is not that you are lucky to have more than those to whom you are giving, but despair that you have succumbed to a meager of view of life, a place where the best you can hope for is to grab as much as you can, and then see what’s left to toss down to the slow or unlucky.

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