By Lana Turnbull
Do you ever think about why one individual gives so freely of himself and another clings more tightly to their money or possessions than a three-year-old fighting over a toy (any parent can relate to the accompanying declarative shriek….MINE!)? We all know some of both kinds – the ones who would “give you the shirt off their back” and the ones who “don’t believe in mollycoddling” those in need. The majority of us probably fall somewhere in the middle, but it does make you wonder what is the determining factor when it comes to being generous or selfish.
Not surprisingly, for generations scientists and philosophers have debated over what makes people altruistic and whether it can all be chocked up to nature or nurture. Now, with the mapping of the human genome, researchers can look deep into a person’s genetic makeup to see how heredity and environment work together to explain why one person is more generous than another. One researcher, psychology professor Ariel Knafo at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has actually honed in on the variants of one gene that he believes may affect generosity.
It’s interesting to think that a tiny part of our biological makeup might play a part in whether we are prone to giving, but I like to think that we are also heavily influenced when we see the results of the good works of others. Even in times like these when we hear so much bad news, it’s the stories of great heroism or those of simple kindness that touch our hearts and make us want to help. Maybe that’s the role the genetically generous play in society as a whole. They are the examples that we can look to and say, “Hey, this person can do it and look at the difference he made, surely I can do something to help.”
In the close-knit circle of a small town or village, we all knew who the real givers were. They weren’t flashy or ostentatious. They were quiet and efficient in their talent for finding what needed to be done and doing it not for the glory but for the simple reason someone needed help or maybe just a hug or a warm meal and some conversation. They were the examples we wanted to follow because something told us that what they had, their predisposition for generosity, was unique and fine and worthy of emulating.
As we put the final pages of this issue of Well-Being together, I realize how important the natural givers of this world are to us. Their contributions are priceless, whether they give of their time to glean behind the farmers picking turnips to help feed the hungry, give blood to save the lives of strangers or work thanklessly to raise money or awareness for health issues that plague our world.
We need the generous ones, not just to do the hard jobs, or the messy jobs, or the thankless jobs, but to give us something to aspire to. They are the ones who show us what we can accomplish when we allow that tiny piece of our biologic makeup, backed up by an open heart and a willing spirit, to rise to the occasion so we get out there and make a difference, even if it’s just one turnip at a time.