This fellow I know runs a struggling consulting business. The advice he delivers is of high quality–I know because I have consulted with him once or twice. Yet he struggles. He agonizes about his lack of success. He is proud of his professional competence but is baffled by his competitors who vastly outperform him financially, though his skills and experience are superior to theirs.
Obviously there could be many reasons to account for his lackluster growth. Maybe he makes mistakes in his marketing or perhaps he should adjust his pricing but these are relatively easy to fix. This fellow has worked on that yet he continues to fail. And I know why. But he’s never asked me so I’ve never told him. Unsolicited advice is seldom welcome.
I know what his problem is because he unknowingly reveals it to me. In casual conversation he has often said things like this: “You know that builder friend of yours, do you think you could get him to do me a favor?” Or this: “At that birthday party I attended last night I met a lawyer with whom I hit it off; I think his wide range of contacts could help me.” Even this: “Remember you suggested I look up Mr. Jones while I was in Chicago? I did and I can’t see what good he could do me.”
Not once has he ever said to me, “If you ever encounter a struggling entrepreneur whom you think I could help, call me and I’ll help him pro bono.” Or, “I looked up Jones as you suggested and I’d really like to help him. Do you have any idea of what the best way would be to do so?” In other words, this fellow sees the world only in terms of how it could benefit him. He sees his connection with the world as a great big pipe with a one-way valve ensuring that goodness and abundance only flow inbound.
At first glance, this would appear to be sound business strategy. Focus on getting rather than giving and evaluate people only in terms of what they can do for you. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Our behavior shapes our personalities and, with the passage of time, it also sculpts our faces. Sure enough, to my eyes, this fellow has, in the last few years, acquired an unappealing self-centeredness. He seems even less interested in me, my family, and my life than he used to be.
God designed His world to incentivize us to be obsessively preoccupied with the needs and desires of His other children. He does so by bestowing upon us the enormous blessing of financial abundance in proportion to how many of His other children we please and how significantly we please them. Most of us prefer being pleased by people who at least appear to be as interested in our needs as they are in their own. When I encounter a sales professional who radiates only self-interest I take my business elsewhere.
One way to make our personalities and faces radiate a pleasing effect is to engage in regular acts of giving. Each evening as we privately perform our daily self-evaluation, we ought to make certain that we devoted ourselves just as much to giving as we did to getting. That includes not only time, energy and resources but also love, recognition, and attention.
Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that every strength comes with a parallel weakness. For all the strengths and advantages the oldest sibling acquires, he also should be extra vigilant about becoming overly self-centered.
You might remember the story from Numbers chapter 32 when, upon the eve of Israel’s conquering the Promised Land, the tribes of Reuven and Gad requested to settle on the east side of the Jordan River where they had encountered excellent grazing for their animals. Moses reacts quite angrily, accusing them of abandoning their brethren as the tribes approach the impending war for the land of Israel,
Once the two tribes explained that of course they meant to settle in Transjordan only after helping fight the war of acquisition, Moses was still not placated. He remained critical of them.
What bothered Moses? They betrayed their true interests when they told Moses that they’d build enclosures for their animals and cities for their children before joining the war alongside their brothers. (Numbers 32:16)
When Moses responded, he reversed the order, pointing out that their priority ought to be their children, not their wealth. (Numbers 32:24) Children are one of the primary vehicles God uses to train us to become happy givers.
Moses was well aware that the two tribes involved were first born sons. Reuven was Leah’s first born son (Genesis 29:32) and Gad was Zilpah’s first born son (Genesis 30:10-11).
Moses recognized the negative tendency of egotism which can infect the first born who has a stint as the ‘one and only’ child. He can be prone to self-centeredness and self-centeredness tends to isolate us from other people.
A few years later, Joshua berated these two tribes (Joshua 22) because they built their own altar to God instead of joining in worship with their brothers in Jerusalem. Their eventual comeuppance was that they were the first tribes to be exiled when Israel was later attacked by her enemies.
The regular practice of giving stimulates awareness of and connectedness with others. If the fellow I know would learn this truth, immediate and tangible benefits would flow to him as they would to all who follow God’s plan for human economic interaction.