Friday, September 5, 2008

Stewardship and Generosity

These are other concepts that require further development and a fuller treatment and I clearly don't do them justice. But I want them put out here, not in my head.

Be a Custodian, Not an Owner

There is a motivational talk I once attended by Pastor JB Masinde that was about how to be a custodian and not an owner of the things we have and it inspired me. How he said it and how I interpreted it may differ. Recall that the author of a book cannot and does not lord over how his book is to be interpreted: every reader reads a book and makes his own impressions. The same thing applies to a speaker.
So anyways, being a custodian means that when you have some resource, for example, a money, think about what someone above you would do with that money considering your present circumstances, that is, family, relatives and your own status in life. If you believe in God, this is easy because you can simply ask yourself what you would want God to do. But if you don’t believe in God, like myself, you can still ask the question and place yourself in the shoes of some father-figure who has no immediate interest in what you do with the resource. If you think this way, one finds that they are able to use the resources in the best way possible.
The logic behind this is simple. When you think of yourself as the “owner” you think of yourself. When you think of yourself, you will think of your needs and wants. And most of the times, our needs are fleeting and often indulgent. A custodian will not make your ego or needs the center of the equation even though he would make you part of the equation.
If you are brilliant and have great brains, ask yourself, how can I best apply my brains to help the people around me? If you just got a great windfall or a bonus from your work, ask yourself how best can this money be used? Not, “Now that I have this money how can I use it?” Don’t ask “What are my needs?” Ask, “What is needed?” That’s what I mean. I think that thinking like yields the best for us and makes us bigger people.
Recall also that you cannot give what is not yours.

What you have is what you give

This is another very fundamental Maxim. It means that someone who is full of pain and anger cannot give out love. If you are happy and full of joy, you will give joy to others. And behind this is the saying “every obnoxious act is a cry for help” When someone attacks you or is nasty to you, it means that person is in pain or is hurting. Instead of lashing out, remember that what people have is what they give. Sympathize with them and quietly consider why you would never deal with what you have in you in the way that person is going about dealing with what is in them.
Knowing this maxim will help us to tolerate people who are suspicious, vengeful, and vindictive and who are nasty and who are bullies. Once you understand this maxim, you will find that you do not get upset by nasty people. And you will be more understanding even in situations when you feel entitled to a certain kind of treatment.

You Cannot Give Away what is Not Yours

Behind this maxim is the concept of abundance. People everywhere today exhort us to embrace the idea that the world has enough for everyone. That we don’t have to be afraid of scarcity. New age motivational speakers tell us this in videos and in books. And believers propound the same concept while asserting that we should share what we have because God will provide. But they don’t point out the maxim that you cannot give away what is not yours. Let me illustrate.
Consider a typical corrupt politician. In general, such a person is wealthy and owns several businesses. But because his wealth is ill-gotten, he does not feel the ownership to it even though it legally belongs to him. Because he does not feel that sense of ownership, he is likely to seek more corrupt deals and accumulate more and more wealth and aggrandize himself insatiably. Such people never give to charity or help the poor, except where necessary for political reasons.
Why can’t they give away some of what they have?
Because it is not theirs.
It’s the same way when one is a child and they have a sweet or some food and another child wants some of it, we are reluctant to give them. It is because we were also given that food: it is not ours. Because we don’t feel we own the source of that food, we are held hostage by the fear of scarcity and so we feel if we give away we will be left with nothing.
Knowing this maxim will help us to understand when our parents or friends refuse to give us something that we think they could share or do away with. Based on this, we can say that poverty is a mindset. And this mindset is what stops people from sharing what they apparently have. The key word here is “apparently”. So a fear of scarcity makes us hold back from sharing and from being generous.
We need to understand that when we hold back, our worlds become smaller because, as Susan Jeffers says, what we keep owns us and what we give away sets us free. When we hold onto things, we get stuck with them. When we give them away, we are freed from them and can wander off to search for new experiences, probably better and more enriching.

In the next installment I will explore the John Ruskin's saying “What you become from what you do is more important that what you get from what you do” and "Apply Yourself"

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