Giving is Selfish!

Academy Award Winning Actor Denzel Washington said, “Giving is selfish,” during a university commencement speech. He said giving is selfish! Selfish! I never heard this before. It doesn’t make a lot of sense—at first. I had to replay the clip because I thought it couldn’t be true. I thought I heard wrong. Maybe he really said, “Giving is selfless,” I thought. I listened carefully, again:

“The most selfish thing you can do in this world is help someone else, because the gratification, the goodness that comes to you, the good feeling, the good feeling from helping others—nothing is better than that. Not jewelry, not the big house, not the cars; it’s the joy. That’s where the joy is—in helping others. That’s where the success is.”

I had been taught that the biggest gifts must be sacrificial in order for it to be meaningful. I thought there must be a little bit of pain that goes into giving. Denzel challenges this notion with a vivid visual by further saying:

“You will never see a U-Haul behind a hearse. I don’t care how much money you make, you can’t take it with you. It’s not how much you have, it’s what you do with what you have.”


Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

What if the beauty of giving is that you get by giving? Does fundraising miss the point? What if it misses the the point entirely of the true purpose of giving: the fun-ness of giving. Giving feels good. Giving doesn’t feel good because you get a plaque. Giving feels good because you helped build a gym for students to play in and learn to take care of their bodies. Giving feels good because you were able to help a homeless veteran have a warm meal. Giving feels good because you gave something that created joy in you.

Joy is a feeling not often discussed in every day language. We interchange this word with happiness. Everyone is aspiring to be happy. Authors have gotten rich off of teaching us how to be happy. No one ever talks about the deeper characteristic beyond happiness. There is something deeper and more meaningful than happiness: the deeply personal eternal feeling of joy.

Nothing tangible can be packed up in a suitcase and be taken with us after our death. They are now-useless valuables. Meaningless. What is forever valuable, though, is the investment we made in someone else. The people whose lives we touched. The great altruistic act. Denzel isn’t say that comes with just lending a kind word, it is actually found at the intersection between your dream and God’s goodness:

“That itch you have, whatever it is you want to do…that thing you want to do to help others, and to grow, and to make money…that’s God’s proof to you since beforehand already to indicate that it is yours. Anything you want that is good, you can have! So, claim it and work hard to get it. When you get it reach back and pull someone else up. Don’t just aspire to make a living. Aspire to make a difference.”

Today, Denzel is my teacher. Today, Denzel gave to me. He is pulling me up. Now, I hope, I am giving to you and pulling you up. Words from heart to heart. Words that inspire and create hope. I am asking you to join me and give back. To do good with what you have. To dream and to create.

Become a philanthropist with me—someone who gives back with the talents and resources we are given to make the world a better place. And, for goodness sake, don’t worry about how much you have. As he said, “Claim it! It is yours already.”

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