Through both accident and intention, I’ve manage to fool a large number of my friends and acquaintances into thinking I have a pure and generous heart. While it’s true that I do occasionally donate time, money and complementary copies of books I’ve written to people and organizations whose work I respect and admire, I also know another part of me. It’s one that I often have to deliberately override. It holds a subtle fear that underlies and fuels my frequent lack of generosity. When I do override it, I commonly get something quite valuable back in return.
In a way, I’m sort of like the Mafia in that regard: I provide you with $200 of “working capital,” knowing that sooner or later I’m going to be getting $300-$400-$10,000 back in return. The main difference is that while I fully expect the return on my investment to be much more than I give, I expect it to come not only from you, but from an increasingly more organized, integrated and manifest “nonlocal reality,” one that has been aided and abetted by my giving! In other words, my personal giving to you exponentially aids the world by a factor greater than six degrees of separation. Parenting prescriptions that are adopted and positively affect neural development, last an extended lifetime and touch multiple lives in beneficial ways. That’s one example.
Hooked on the Feel Good
As I’ve previously written, one thing I also get back personally by giving is improved neurological functioning. Altruism often activates my oxytocin and dopamine receptors. It feels good to give. The mental, spiritual and physical health benefits that accrue from that alone might be considered by some as enriching enough. It would be good, I think, to explain how such exchanges work to affect the brain (and by extension, the heart and all the other hollow organs) to kids who are able to understand them … which includes most kids at a very early age as child psychiatrist, Bruce Perry does with these kindergartners. And as with many things, we teach our kids best by modeling behavior we want them to copy: Teach them to be like the Mafia for the benefit of all humankind.
There’s some evidence to support the hypothesis that a generous heart is also affected by our genes, specifically, the Greenbeard gene. The Greenbeard gene and its effects was first proposed by British ethologist, Richard Dawkins. Essentially, Dawkins argued that our similar genetic makeup makes us act more caringly and altruistically toward kin than strangers. He proposed that certain traits, for example a green beard, make us easily able to recognize people who share our similar genetic history; it is they who look and feel most like family. And it is people who look and feel like family that we tend to act more kindly and generously toward.
Caring for Extended Family
The limitations of this genetic “inheritance” were made obvious in a wonderful, memorable story by Ram Dass, perhaps in his book, Conscious Aging (I can’t fully remember; a sign of unconscious aging?). Ram Dass was caring for his elderly father, a very successful, retired Boston lawyer. They were talking about the surprising success of Ram Dass’s earlier book, Be Here Now. “If it’s so popular, why don’t you charge more?” his father asked. “Well, tell me – you wrote Uncle Mort’s will for him a couple of years ago, didn’t you?” Ram Dass asked. “Yes, I did,” “And did you charge him an arm and a leg?” “No, I didn’t charge him anything. He’s family.” “Yes,” said Ram Dass. “So, do you see my predicament?”
I am heartened by this Pew Charitable Trust research which shows that interracial marriage has more than doubled in the last 30 years, from roughly 7 percent of the population in 1980 to nearly 15 percent in 2010. More and more of us with a Greenbeard are willing to experiment by cohabiting with those of us without until they actually grow one, apparently by increasing the activation and connectivity of the anterior insula in the brain.
I am further heartened when Bill Gates and Warren Buffet gather the world’s richest people together and challenge one another to be more philanthropic than any group of rich people have ever been in history, in order to benefit the world family. I also take delight when 26 year old social media billionaire Mark Zuckerberg recognizes it’s important to give a $100 million dollar matching grant to try to improve the New Jersey public school system. So, some of us at least, are putting our money where our Greenbeards live.
Call me an unrealistic idealist, but a world in which everyone is carrying the Greenbeard gene and knows the benefits of its use and models its practice – a world where everyone is readily recognized as “family” – that’s a world I want me and the planet’s children to grow up and thrive in. Let me say it again (repetition aids in learning and recall): a world in which everyone is carrying the Greenbeard gene and knows the benefits of its use and models its practice – a world where everyone is readily recognized as “family” – that’s a world I want me and the planet’s children to grow up and thrive in.