Berkana Blog

Inviting the Quiet Gift

by Dick Durning on December 7, 2011

Recently my wife and I were guests at a high end gala in Chicago. The evening’s high point was listening to the event’s two honorees, both human rights activists, one from Indonesia and the other from Zimbabwe. Their simple words and humility captured everyone in the ballroom. For a brief time there was a community sharing the company of two remarkable people.

Then, the gala “got back to business.” The mood shifted. A designated “ringmaster” challenged us to dig a little deeper so the event could reach a new level of support. Everyone had received a little transmitting wand that allowed us to enter donations and be recognized on two gigantic screens. “Oh look! There’s Jack and Sally Jones.” This was the culmination of the gala–a celebration of the donor.

Reflecting back on the eventing, two questions came to mind: Where does the “quiet” gift fit in this world of ours? As individuals and communities, where does the natural flow of our giving show up?

The two honorees’ work was within cultures of quiet generosity, community, care and shared commitment. They are a part of an ancient and sacred linage where giving is as natural a sunset, an apple, or the casserole delivered to an elderly neighbor. Berkana is experimenting with just this kind of giving culture. Shilpa and Manish Jain’s book, Reclaiming the Gift Culture, is a collection of writing that provides a wonderful variety of examples of quiet giving and introduces the term gupt daan or “undisclosed giving.” In Ladakhis Tibet, cooperation and mutual aid is inherent to their culture. Beverly Bell writes of the guiding principle in Mali which is: “Who you are is very much defined by what you do in relationship with other people. It’s how much you give to others.”

In contrast, there is the noisier way of giving. Our support provides recognition, benefits and status that can range from tax benefits to the gala take-away gift bags. More value and time are dedicated to the wealthier prospect and the larger donation. YES, we must pay the rent and make payroll, but at the same time we are diminishing the place of the “quiet gift”.

So how does the quiet gift (gupt daan or “undisclosed giving” in Sanskrit) seep back into ourselves and our communities? This question is an invitation for your own reflections and responses. I’ll start.

  • Be mindful of your ongoing capacity to live out gupt daan. I send you an advance thank you.
  • Teach your children and our youth the idea of gupt daan.
  • Read and share Shilpa and Manish Jain’s book, Reclaiming the Gift Culture. Much of my writing has been inspired by this gem.
  • Team up with your boss and colleagues to explore how your community can begin the welcome the gift culture as a value enhancement in the workplace.

For me, I try daily to be attuned and grateful for nature’s ongoing generosity… dancing leaves, sunlight brightening a brick building, breezes through pine trees. I want to try “7 days, 7 gifts”, a giving challenge. The idea around it is simple. In this practice, you are invited to give one gift each day for 7 days to friends or strangers.

If you have any ideas or stories about how to live out gupt daan, I invite you to share them here and welcome a conversation.

Dick Durning partners with individuals, teams, and organizations committed to increasing their own capacity and ease in securing financial support within a space of integrity, engagement, joy, and invitation. He offers practical skills and fundraising “Generous Space” methodologies through coaching, workshops, and hands-on applications. Learn more at Wisdom-Exchange.

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