Giving Back
by William J. Gallo

This article is typically focused on an individual, couple or family that has made a significant impact on our community. These folks are typically middle to late aged, influential in our community and quite often have achieved financial success. However, as we enter the New Year and reflect upon a world engulfed in a climate of divisive politics, a culture of indifference to the condition of our planet and its inhabitants and the threat of war, it is imperative that we look to the lessons learned from those individuals that usually embrace this article and learn from their focus. Each and every one of us needs to recognize our societal need for civility, morality and kindness. In essence we all need to start giving back. Why? Because the answer is in a quote from Muhammad Ali. He said, “service to others is the rent you pay for your place here on earth.” This statement is profound because it makes giving back a requirement of living and not an option for those that are successful.

An anonymous person once said, “If you want to touch the past, touch a stone,” “If you want to touch the present, touch a flower,” and “If you want to touch the future, touch a life.” These words are so apropos in order to reverse the politics and present cultural milieu. This year should be the year that we make sure we prioritize the need to be giving back. Keep in mind the saying, “that wherever there is a human being there is an opportunity for kindness.” I like to extend that concept to, wherever there is any living thing, be it human, animal or plant there is an opportunity for kindness. In a world that often emphasizes personal success and individual accomplishments, the act of giving back to one’s community stands out as a beacon of altruism and social responsibility. What then are the benefits of giving back? How can we participate and what impact will giving back have on our community and world.

First, let us explore the benefits of giving back. One of the most significant rewards is that giving back grants to us a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Engaging in activities that contribute to the well-being of others taps into a deep human need for connection and meaning. You do not have to be financially successful to become a beacon of altruism in your community. In fact, I would argue that financial success can often be a contributor to feelings of alienation leading to depression. By giving back you become rich in other ways than monetary. Another benefit of giving back is that you participate in the growth and well-being of your community. By contributing time, effort and resources to local causes you will experience the benefits of your input and see how these efforts create a positive cycle of people supporting people, ultimately leading to a more vibrant and interconnected society.

In addition to the community benefits, there are great personal benefits, that result from an act of giving back. A person can realize personal growth and development. The act of giving back requires that we step outside of our comfort zone, encountering new perspectives, and developing a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by others. As we engage, we gain greater exposure to diverse experiences, expanding our empathy and compassion, leading us to higher levels of growth and development such as obtaining valuable skills of leadership, communication and problem solving. There have been numerous studies pointing to the fact that giving back to the comm-unity can be linked to reducing stress levels, increased feelings of happiness, and a decreased risk of depression. Our physical well-being is also impacted by giving back. Research suggests that individuals who volunteer regularly may experience lower blood pressure, improved cardiovascular health, and potentially greater longevity. Ultimately, in combination, these positive effects offer us a heightened state of holistic well-being. Most important is that we will foster a legacy of generosity. When large numbers of individuals actively participate in giving back to their communities, we create a legacy of compassion and philanthropy. This legacy will extend beyond the present to future generations to prioritize and encourage further community service and social obligation. All of these positive impacts are a mandate for each and every one of us to giving back to our communities. In our world, which is all too often characterized by individual pursuits and personal success, the act of giving back offers a strong counterbalance.

Where are the opportunities for us to practice giving back? They are in front of us every day of our lives. You do not have to wait until your senior years when you can afford to make major financial gifts to organizations, nor do you have to have achieved success in your professional life. Giving back starts with a myriad of simple gestures. Try volunteering at a local shelter, food bank or hospital. Consider participating in an environmental clean-up; our beaches and reefs sorely need help. Try mentoring younger individuals. This can be applied in sports, tutoring or just being a “big bother.” In helping our animals and plants, maybe try planting a tree or adopting a pet. The animal shelters are greatly in need of finding homes for abused and abandoned animals. Make small donations to organizations that help others. You can give in very small amounts and still make a great deal of difference. There is that parable about when Jesus was in the temple and a poor woman gave two small coins. He remarked to his disciples, “that woman has given more than all of the others as she sacrificed to make her donation, whereas others gave from their surplus.” Finally, there is the simplest of all; try performing a random act of kindness. Extend a helping hand to someone in need: they are everywhere these days. Pay for the person in front of you on line at Starbucks, or just say, “hello I hope you are having a wonderful day,” to the next person you pass on the street. I think you get the idea. In the end the words of Mahatma Gandi say it all, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service to others.”