Mind Matters — Give and Take

To begin the process of remodeling our kitchen, the old was gutted and appliances were going to be thrown away. Donating to Good Will or other non-profits was not possible—our old kitchen was “too old” despite all being in working condition. Freecycle to the Rescue!

Freecycle is an online listing service sort of like Craig’s List but, as the name implies, “free.” The mission of Freecyle, as quoted in Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take, is to “build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources, and eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community.”

I placed a notice on Freecycle for the giveaway of refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, and microwave, all fourteen years old. Responses were immediate. It turned out that the woman who was thrilled to take it all also wanted to pay it forward. Our church was gathering items for pregnant women who had been victims of human trafficking and were living in a safe house. This woman was delighted to start a collection of baby items from her friends.

The Freecycle movement is addressed in the book Give and Take. Author Adam Grant, a professor at Penn’s Wharton School, analyzes how success may be based more on being a “giver” than a “taker.” In the workplace, people may be givers, takers, or matchers. Quid pro quo, this for that, is the modus operandi of matchers, while takers try to get as much as they can without reciprocating. Givers, on the other hand, contribute to others without expectation of getting anything in return.

It would seem that Grant’s research finds that St. Francis of Assisi was right after all! It is in giving that we receive. While some givers in the professional sphere may become door mats and get burnt out, many, if not most, givers in the workplace achieve great success. It turns out the networking, collaboration, community, and connection, among other relational skills of the givers, trump the takers of the world.

Why is that? Grant notes: “When takers win, there’s usually someone else who loses. Research shows that people tend to envy successful takers and look for ways to knock them down a notch. … when givers … win, people are rooting for them … rather than gunning for them. Givers succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around them.”

One of the stories of givers that Grant relates is of Abraham Lincoln who “put the interests of others before his own” even in politics. Rather than seeing a crooked and popular politician win, Lincoln withdrew from the race and urged his supporters to vote for the less popular, but more honest man (Trumbull), who shared his views and remained in the race. Withdrawing from race or losing another did not stop Lincoln from running for Senate again and he went on to become one of the most beloved presidents. Experts agree that Lincoln helped others even when it was least convenient. He is considered “as one of the least self-centered, egotistical, or boastful presidents” all the while being one of the most popular. One of his own military generals remarked that Lincoln possessed the elements of both goodness and greatness.

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin notes how Lincoln surrounded himself in the cabinet with his rivals. The good of the country was his priority.

Grant attests that “if politics can be fertile ground for givers,” any workplace, or profession can also be!

However, givers are not the sprinters. It takes time to develop relationships and networks, goodwill, and trust. The success of the giver is in the long distance. Lincoln endured losses with generosity of spirit and succeeded to become one of our greatest presidents.

Whether we ourselves are givers or takers, we—people across the globe—endorse giver values of helpfulness, responsibility, social justice, and compassion. We hopefully live these values in our own homes. Now all we need to do is extend those same notions into the workplace and the world at every level.

You don’t have to be Abraham Lincoln to start giving on Freecycle (freecycle.org), or to join ServiceSpace (servicespace.org). Even asking for help is a way to start the giving connections going. Asking for what we need gives others the choice to be givers and for us to return the favor or pay it forward.