Tim McCarthy

  Tim McCarthy


In helping others, we are always helping ourselves. Both by nature and by nurture, I’ve always felt good about giving.

Today, our foundation, The Business of Good, invests millions in “serving those who serve the poor,” but my first lesson in giving was delivered over time by my little sister who had Down syndrome. It’s clear when you are in public with someone who is so different that many people cannot see past the surface of another human being. Having Jane in my life made me strive to see all people’s distinct values. She was certainly valuable to me as a sister, friend, and as my teacher.

Being quiet about giving adds to its return on investment, as I learned from my mom and dad. Mom would say, “If you can’t give with a free hand, don’t bother,” and Dad, a physician, never sent a second bill to his patients. He once told his administrator, “If they couldn’t pay the first notice, they must not be able to afford it.”

I remember getting a hint of Dad’s quiet giving one Christmas when I noticed how many people stopped by during the season to deliver canned goods or fix something or plow our driveway. One time, I asked my Mom why everyone seemed to be so nice to Dad and she replied, “These are their ways to pay him back.”

When I was about 19, I got the most important lesson for giving I ever received. That is, that giving is never “giver and receiver.” Instead, it is always a two-way street. I visited Laurie Rose and her family for Sunday dinner. Laurie was divorced and struggling in a lot of ways at the time. At her home, I was surprised to find, in addition to her kids and boyfriend, at the table was a young disabled man from a local foster home. We all had a fun time and Laurie invited me to stay until she returned from taking the young man back to the home.

When she returned, I asked, “What was that all about?”

She said, “Oh, Jimmy spends every Sunday with us.”

I said, “You are so kind. He is so lucky.”

Without batting an eye, she responded, “Maybe, but I don’t do it for him; I do it for me. You see, it makes me feel real joy to have Jimmy around.”

That leads to my final thought: giving gladly. This gift was given to me by my late mentor, Norm Smith. He was my parish priest in the ‘90s. He’d say, “Timmy, it’s not enough to give. We must give gladly.”

I picked Norm up one night to go to a particularly difficult meeting in the inner city with a committee at our Sister Church that was split about what direction they were heading. In fact, many were angry. Norm answered the door in a clown suit. He had the red wig and nose, the hat and shoes, the whole nine yards.

I said, “Norm, I don’t know what you’re doing but we gotta go man, hurry up and get dressed.” Smiling, he went right past me and headed for the car as I called after him, “You’re going to the meeting like that?”

He said, “Heck, yeah, it could get rough down there tonight!” I laughed all the way downtown and, of course, so did everyone else. It took the edge off of what would otherwise have been a very difficult situation.

Over time, I’ve learned that giving is best done without judgment, quietly and freely, remembering that you are both recipient and giver.

I’ll write another time about quantitative proof, but my own research proves that when I give, I receive.

I like that.


Tim McCarthy is the author of Empty Abundance: Finding Meaning Through Mindful Giving, www.mindfulgiving.org. You can connect with him on Twitter here: @MindfulGiving.

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