2 Corinthians 9:6-10
The over-riding mentality of scarcity and competition in our society is troubling. As a nation, as companies, and too often as individuals, we assume that the only way I win is if someone else loses. The only way to get ahead is to keep someone else from doing so. The only way to have what I want is to ensure someone else doesn’t get it before me. I must put myself first because no one else will, and others are out to take me down. Admittedly, these are not unrealistic assumptions given the world we live in. Neither are they the path of discipleship.
Interestingly, there is emerging research from the secular world that promotes a different way. Wharton professor Adam Grant devoted the last decade to discovering the characteristics of people who achieve extraordinary success. Though not intended as a spiritual study, his conclusions strongly reinforce biblical values like "Sow bountifully". "God loves a cheerful giver", and "It is in giving that you receive".
Grant says there are three stances we can choose when interacting with others – takers (who seek to come out ahead, receiving more than they give), matchers (the "you owe me one" people who expect something commensurate in return), and givers (who go out of their way to help others regardless of an easily foreseeable payback.) Counter to expectations, the most highly successful people operate as givers without thought of return.
Grant acknowledges that givers can also sink to the bottom of the pack. This occurs if they are martyrs (often wracked with insecurity) who give so much they cannot do their own work, care for themselves, or maintain focus. The key, and an overriding characteristic of those who rise to the top, is a healthy dose of self-interest combined with authentic generosity of spirit and a desire to see others succeed as well as themselves.
Grant distilled the wisdom from these highly successful leaders into a four-step prescription for success, each of which easily translates into faith terms:
1. Recognize the full potential in people. (Acknowledge each person as a uniquely gifted child of God, expect the best of them, and help them achieve it).
2. Share your knowledge and expertise freely. (Think of your talents and knowledge as gifts meant to be used in service and shared for the common good.)
3. Communicate positively, offer gratitude, and show deep respect. (Build up the body and all its members, frequently offering thanks and reinforcing each person’s inherent God-given dignity.)
4. Identify and reward giving tendencies in performance evaluations and job interviews. (Look for and explicitly praise patterns of generosity, acting to support, promote and strengthen those patterns.)
These steps seem so simple and entirely in line with our call to discipleship. Yet in my experience, whether in churches, businesses, schools, or sports, people who live by Grant’s prescription are the exception rather than the rule. How many parish and diocesan staffs operate thus? How many pastors and ministers have a primary concern to help others succeed? How many Christians in the pews actively seek to mentor others, helping them reach their potential regardless of personal benefit? Unfortunately, when I examine my own life I realize that I, too, fall far short of the ideal. I also realize how deeply the reign of God could penetrate our world if we collectively changed.
My prayer today is that God will crack open the hard shell of scarcity, competition, and self-centered ambition that lurks in my heart. I choose to direct my energy to generosity, sharing, nurturing, and mentoring. I pray for wisdom to determine the line between giving and martyrdom in order to care for the person God created me to be, while developing an attitude of abundance, joy, and delight in helping others recognize and fully use their talents. And as secular research reinforces the value of changing our prevailing attitudes, I pray that others will join me in this pursuit. Will you?
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.