I sometimes meet well-meaning professionals who crave to support a cause but their desire is almost always coupled with overwhelm. Real-time reports of calamities and injustices show acute and chronic problems that need solves everywhere. But it’s hard to fully absorb them when our individual lives are bursting at the seams with commitments and responsibilities. Our response may progress from self-protection by tuning out, then perhaps to minor guilt for ignoring, and then into the calloused emotion of apathy over time where we simply turn off that part of ourselves. A progression that wastes human spirit and capacity.
Between the binaries of turning off or massively caring about everything, there is a third way that’s more practical and over time, collectively more impactful. We can invite ourselves to care for a very specific cause that speaks to us because of our personal struggles and tithe* to that cause with our attention and action. Despite our many spinning plates vying for attention, emotion and time, there are some pieces of news and information that seem to dig deeper in our psyche than others. The key to unlocking our causes is to sit in that discomfort long enough to figure out the common thread in the pains and triumphs that manage to imprint us. Marinating in this discomfort is also critical in activating the compassionate action that this world sorely needs.
I’ve also found that the unexpected precursor to this sought-after compassionate action is patience and kindness with self. Tithing in action churns up all sorts of fears of inadequacy and helplessness. It does no good if our actions flame out before taking root because of our very natural human fears. Patience and kindness with ourselves creates the strength to keep going despite obstacles. We keep reminding ourselves that there is no need to rush, that even the smallest actions amount to invisible impact, that this process can take months or even years. We make our actions small and manageable and our timelines longer. We remind ourselves that it’s not all on us and that there are others in it with us. Over time, these practices even out our focus from over-fixating on self or to a healthy dose of self-respect and agency in light of our general smallness. We start to focus less on ourselves and more on the collective. Imagine, if everyone did this, how big our small acts of tithing could become?
*A note on tithing for those new to this concept
There is a concept called tithing or dana across all faiths. It’s a voluntary practice where one offers a part of their income for use in the service of others or a cause. Of course, like any practice, this concept has also suffered misuse at times through guilt or exploitation. Regardless, the practice has immense power to orient us to generosity. In eastern philosophy (that I’m more familiar with), dana can take any form ― material or energy, the donor’s intent while giving is as important as the dana itself. The amount doesn’t matter; what matters is the posture of goodwill and generosity. We’re invited to cultivate a sense of hospitality, abundance, goodwill and faith with a focus on our spiritual growth and other’s benefit. This practice gets under our skin in the most positive way. It teaches a willingness to make others happy, to get in touch with our natural impulse to care that gets covered in the busyness of daily life, and most importantly in letting go of our craving for applause and attachment to specific outcomes.
“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”― Pablo Picasso, painter and sculptor