“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” – Matthew 6:3
In 1997, the New York Times reported that Edith and Harry Everett had pledged three million dollars toward the six-million-dollar cost of renovating New York’s Central Park Zoo. In exchange, the zoo was to be named the “Everett Children’s Zoo”. But, said the Times, the couple decided to withdraw their pledge and give the money elsewhere. The reason, they explained, was that the proposed plaque at the zoo entrance, on which their names would be emblazoned, was too small.
When I first read about the Everett’s I was incensed. How could they, I thought! Can you imagine such an attitude of self-importance? Neither can I . . . that is, until I realize I do the same thing when I offer up good deeds or make generous donations. Thinking I have earned kudos and attaboys, I often harbor resentment when such praise does not occur. So, if I stand in judgment of the Everett’s, am I not also convicting myself?
The late Robert Woodruff, the legendary leader of the Coca-Cola company from 1923-1954, once said, “There is no limit to what a man can do or how far he can go as long as he doesn’t care who gets the credit.” Could it be, then, that the opposite is also true, that expecting recognition and praise for generous deeds places limits on our potential?
This is precisely the point Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant makes in his acclaimed book Give and Take, that extensive research has proven that “givers”, those who give with the purest motives, expecting nothing in return, are the ones who over time are most likely to rise to the top in their career fields.
To be sure, the benefit of a three-million-dollar gift from the Everett’s to the Central Park Zoo would have been the same regardless the size of the sign bearing their name. Same is true of my own meager gifts and deeds. We only limit ourselves and our own potential to grow when we demand such recognition. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. . . But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.”