G is for Giving

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Looking back on your life what are the things you have been given that have helped you to grow?

Different people give different answers to this question. But several themes emerge. Here are some of them.

I was given:

A happy childhood … Lots of encouragement … The chance to learn from inspiring teachers … Talents I could build on … The opportunity to volunteer … The ability to see things in perspective.

The chance to learn from good role models in my profession … Feedback that helped me to improve … The opportunity to do satisfying work … The chance to live a healthy and happy life.

How do we learn to give? Many people talk about having positive models in their lives or work. Looking at my own life, for example, I was adopted by parents who provided constant encouragement.

Over the years I met many people who gave me opportunities. They had a philosophy of encouragement, but also provided practical help. Two such people were Alec and Mora Dickson.

Alec and Mora

Alec founded Voluntary Service Overseas and Community Service Volunteers. He said that:

“The giver often receives as much as the receiver.”

Why? Our self fades into the background when we are giving, yet we often feel more real afterwards.

Community Service Volunteers gave me my first opportunity to do full time work with people. Many people reported similar meetings with Alec that changed their lives.

Here is an extract from an obituary written about Alec after his death in 1994. It was written by Martin Stephen for The Independent.


I met Dickson on a variety of occasions but the abiding memory is of the first: being summoned by him to a meeting at 11.30pm at Sheffield Midland station (he was, as usual, in transit), to discuss my recently announced placing as a volunteer at a Northern remand home.

I was barely 17 years old. Though there were clear similarities between my recent experience in a public school boarding-house and life with 50 delinquents in a secure unit, my sense of panic was held at bay only by my sense of shock.

I do not remember his exact words, but he said he trusted me, as he trusted all his volunteers, to do the job, to help someone along the way and to end up just a little wiser after.

It was a turning point in my life and I know from countless conversations that I was one of many who were similarly affected.

Alec and Mora were great encouragers. David Green wrote the following in The Guardian after Mora’s death.


Theirs was a remarkable partnership, with Mora providing wisdom and judgment, together with strong organisational skills to complement Alec’s vision, oratory and occasional lack of realism.

Together, they took the concept of volunteering to new heights, and much of the current thinking in citizenship and social responsibility, both in Britain and internationally, stems from their work.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you have been given that have helped you to grow.

Describe the specific benefits of being given these things.

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Clarifying the things
you want to give to people

Looking ahead, what are the things you want to give to other people?

Different people want to give different things to both present and future generations. They may choose to give encouragement, love, practical skills, knowledge, wisdom or whatever.

So what determines what they want to give? Here are two of the possible routes they may take.

People give the things they were given that helped them to grow.


People give the things they would have liked to have been given, but weren’t.

Givers choose different ways to help other people. Sometimes they simply create an encouraging environment in which people can grow.

Sometimes they go further. They start by inviting people to, if they wish, talk about their aims. They then use their expertise to encourage, educate and enable people to achieve their goals.

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People enjoy using their strengths to help others. They may do so by being a caring person, parent or positive model. They may also use their expertise as a writer, teacher, gardener, nurse, surgeon, architect, singer or in other ways.

Givers enjoy encouraging people in both their personal and professional lives. This can produce benefits for other people, but sometimes also for themselves.

Adam Grant, professor at Wharton, has studied the characteristics of people who have had successful careers. Hard work and talent are vital. So is luck – being in the right place and being willing to make full use of the opportunities.

He maintains there is another determinant of success – the way we interact with others. Do we choose to be a Giver, Taker or Matcher?

Givers want to help others by encouraging people, passing on knowledge and enabling them to reach their goals. They want to help others succeed.

Here is a short video on the topic. You can discover more on the following website.


If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to focus on the specific things you want to give to people.

It is their choice, of course, whether or not they want to use these things. Here is the exercise.

Describe the specific things you want to give to people to help them to grow.

Describe the specific reasons why you want to give these things to people.

Describe the specific benefits they may get if they choose to use these things in their own ways.

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