Good news: You can be a generous person without writing a bunch of checks. In fact, many of the most awe-inspiring and effective examples of generosity are gifts of time and energy, talent and love, custom-fitted to a specific need. This type of giving is open to everyone.
Many of the most awe-inspiring and effective examples of generosity are gifts of time and energy, talent and love, custom-fitted to a specific need.
Not sure where to begin? Here are six gifts of time and attention that have the strong potential to spark ripple effects that affect millions, from head of TED Chris Anderson’s new book, Infectious Generosity.
1. Shift attention
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh taught that attention is the most precious gift we can give someone. This is where generosity starts — with a willingness to stop focusing on ourselves and to instead pay attention to someone else and their needs. From that act of connection, anything can happen.
Truth is, it can be difficult. We spend much of our time lost in our own worlds. We are often reluctant to focus on the issues that others are dealing with. So we put up shields. And that means that many of the people who could really use our attention never feel seen by us. The generosity of attention is therefore the generosity of being willing to be a little uncomfortable, to take down those shields, to give up some time, to risk coming to care about someone else.
Whether you stop and have a meaningful connection with a person in need or spend 30 minutes researching a cause you think might matter, you have already begun your generosity journey.
2. Build bridges
In our connected era, there’s a type of generosity that matters more than ever: a willingness to reach out to those with whom we disagree with. Many disputes today play out in public online. Huge audiences can become glued to online feuds. What if we could bring a satisfying resolution to more of these conflicts?
It’s hard to reach out to our critics. This is a particularly challenging form of the generosity mindset. You are sacrificing your personal comfort for the greater good of bringing people together. But if you’re successful, there’s a powerful knock-on benefit: You are helping change the tone of public discussion today. That’s a gift to all of us.
The single greatest gift we can give is knowledge — knowledge that solves a problem, fills a need or opens a pathway forward.
3. Share knowledge
In countless circumstances, the single greatest gift we can give is knowledge — knowledge that solves a problem, fills a need or opens a pathway forward.
Our single biggest piece of advice to someone coming to speak on the TED stage is to think of their talk not as an opportunity to pitch something (like a business or a cause) but rather as a gift. It is a chance to freely share valuable ideas with the audience. And those ideas have the potential to impact a listener’s life for years to come.
If you possess knowledge that others may benefit from, consider how you could share it to create ripple effects. What may take you a few hours to prepare and act on could light up someone’s life — and that could just be the beginning.
4. Enable connections
In our connected age, the networks we have access to matter more than ever. Therefore, one of the most important forms of viral generosity is to help people connect with others. The simplest way to do this is to make an introduction.
As psychologist and TED speaker Adam Grant has argued, an introduction can be fairly easy to give — and unbelievably valuable to receive. Ask many people how they met their partner, got their dream job or found the perfect collaborator for their creative project, and the answer will often be the same: someone — a friend, a neighbor, a colleague — introduced them to the right person. What you’re effectively doing is giving someone else access to your network of resources. And those introductions can have exponential consequences.
5. Extend hospitality
In his remarkable book Human Universals, anthropologist Donald Brown documented how hospitality is one of hundreds of human behaviors that have been observed in every single culture ever studied. But if hospitality is so ubiquitous (and so pleasant), is it really a form of generosity? Well, yes. Quite apart from any costs involved, it takes effort to invite someone over, whether friends or possible future friends. It’s easier just to watch the next episode of the TV series you’re into.
So how can hospitality contribute to infectious generosity? Hospitality taps into our deepest instincts for connection to one another. And each experience of it evokes a desire to reciprocate.
People need money, food, shelter and healthcare, to be sure. But we also yearn for beauty, wonder, laughter, transcendence — all elements of enchantment.
6. Create enchantment
Pioneering artist Lily Yeh was approached by the dancer and choreographer Arthur L. Hall to undertake a community art project in a derelict, abandoned plot in her home city of Philadelphia. “I was interested but totally scared,” Yeh recalled. “I had little resources and no experience in working outdoors in a community setting. I wanted to run away, but I did not want to see a coward in the mirror. So I stepped into the project.”
The community project became the Village of Arts and Humanities, an art park full of trees, sculptures and mosaics created by local adults and children in collaboration with Yeh. Yeh’s work led her to a profound realization: that creating beauty in public spaces is profoundly healing and transformative for communities.
People need money, food, shelter and healthcare, to be sure. But we also yearn for beauty, wonder, laughter, transcendence — all elements of enchantment. Those who can enchant can offer a gift of immense value.
Excerpted from Infectious Generosity by Chris Anderson, in agreement with The Crown Publishing Group. Copyright © 2024 by Chris Anderson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.