The Art of Giving


By: Gy Brown

“True wealth is measured not by who has the most, but who needs the least.”
his concept, often referred to as Tribal  Mentality, has  allowed entire cultures to survive against all odds  in time of great hunger, strife and danger. Tribal Mentality thrives on unity and the health of all members. Enduring cultures selected leaders based on their ability to see the needs of others and their skills at rallying people to come together as a group to meet the needs of the whole. They were not the ones who talked the loudest or had the most. The ideology of seeking what another possessed or desiring to have more than needed was non-existent. To entertain thoughts rooted in envy or materialism,  would lead to the demise of a culture.  Instead, emphasis was placed on the health of the whole and respect for all  group members. 
During the season of giving, bright lights, huge electric bills and you-gotta-have-it commercials, it is easy to fall in with the overindulging crowd . Modern Western culture expects us to eat and drink too much, waste too much and kill trees for pretty paper that will overflow dumpsters and landfills shortly after being ripped to  shreds. It has become a tradition to stand in  long lines, knock over an old lady or two to get that toy “in limited supply,”  just to make your child feel important for five minutes by having the most advertised new toy on the market. We eagerly join in all the stress of the season through modern rituals like going to parties, getting drunk, fighting with the relatives and talking about who did not give enough. We dolefully resent the massacre of our expectations and gossip about those who got the best gifts. We then proceed to criticize the receiver and gifter. In the end we are  exhausted, ill, depressed and in debt.
We look around and cannot see what caused this condition but think that following the crowd racing in the holiday rush was a requirement to being a good person. After all, who does not celebrate the holidays? It was time to treat and be treated special. So then why do we feel miserable January first?
Envision how tranquil our minds and spirits would be if we opened our front door in the early dawn, looked out at a peaceful community safely sleeping without fear of becoming a statistic. Imagine,  going to bed at night knowing that all is well with everyone in sight and the mind’s vision of harmony was reality.
In times past and among indigenous cultures, giving was driven by the Thinking Soul. The Thinking Soul is the vital yet mysterious part of us that looks around, taking into account everything and sending  the messages to our mind that tell us to feel contentment or resentment. The Thinking Soul does not steal, borrow or presume ownership by existence, but rather it considers all around us and the overall well being of the unit  over self. Our Thinking Soul knows the individual cannot function alone, no matter how much stuff we  have. There can be no separation by belongings, because cultural survival depends on a communal sense of belonging. 
The Winter Giveaway was, and remains in many cultures , a vital part of survival. During this time the elderly and disadvantaged  were equalized with the rest of the community. There was no thought of token gestures like taking grandma a fruit basket to ease the buried voice of tribal survival, but rather making sure she was cared for and comfortable for the entire season. Caring for all the members of society in a respectful and honorable fashion spirals into self-respect and unit health.
The Winter Giveaway season traditionally begins at the end of the harvest season and continues through the fall. At this time, indigenous  people traditionally shared all the harvest, making sure that everyone within a community had what they needed to get through the winter. In the early 1900s, traditional  harvest celebrations evolved into events that incorporated more home based activities. People visited  in the homes, rather than congregating in communal areas. Those who could not attend public gatherings were not left out. The gatherings were brought to them. Work crews called “free Labor” went from house to house repairing roofs, bringing in late harvest, preserving food, sewing quilts and performing other  meaningful tasks. Feasts  and celebrations were a part of the season, celebrating life. Missionary influence changed the finale of the giveaway season to end around Christmas  time. Pre-missionary and post-missionary events always ended with happiness and a contentment knowing that the community was ready to weather the winter season.
We wonder how this can be accomplished when there is so much to do during the giving season. The Thinking Soul knows that the answer is respect. Respect was and is the thing that means the most and safeguards against community failure. When respect is given to all, life becomes about harmony and kindness. Thoughtful gifts are created for each member of the community based on personal needs, not commercialism. Respect is given  individually and uniqueness is encouraged. The one-size-fits-all  attitude does not apply. A beautiful thing happens when individual respect is given. The group becomes diverse, intelligent, sensitive, and aware of all aspects of life. Racism and prejudice no longer have a foothold. Envy and jealously do not exist and unity prevails.    
Respect given to each person where they are in life gives birth to unity. The expectations of one do not affect the life agreements of others. All are given the gift of respect and equality.  Respect gives life to overall health and well being. The needs of others are met without fanfare or expectations.
In the modern world, we often hear someone complain they gave a gift of much higher value than the one received. This attitude would have doomed the human race if it had been present throughout history. The emphasis was on making sure that needs were met and if a person’s gift was noticed at all it would have never been commented on. The reward was in knowing that each member of the society had what they  needed and that no one accumulated needless wealth. 
The values were, on the whole, knowing the group was only as healthy or wealthy as the least in the group. No one   was viewed as wealthy because of what they had in their possession but rather the persons who gave the most  were counted as the wealthiest.   The richest was not the one who had  the most, but the one who needed the least. Anyone who had more than they needed was not considered wealthy but rather in need of special consideration because they were lacking something that could not be filled.
Excess was viewed as not only wrong and wasteful, but as a threat to the survival of the whole. Imagine a world today where excess was shunned. We would not be faced with the critical demise of our planet, hear political arguments, or know the term global warming. There would not be threats of violence, because  there would be a respectful equality among humans. Crime would not have a place in society nor would it consume the energy and resources it currently does. The focus would not be on “me” but rather on “our.”  Our country, our world, our universe begins with respect for ourselves and gently spirals out into the universe in waves of true caring. The endless spirals gracefully circle back into our spirit selves with the giving energy we sent out.  Then, magnified by the magnificence of the universe, the spirals are sent out again into the vastness repeatedly making our small beings something bigger than our current mind limits can perceive.   Our Thinking Soul  would be in control of our existence.
The traditional Winter Giveaway begins during the new moon phase.  This is understood to be a time of rebirth, a time to restart, renew, and give birth to the goodness of life.  We resume our place on the path of respectful existence as an element in the vastness of the universe. Traditional people watch the moon phases and determine life’s course.  This allows us to move through the medicine wheel, understanding that the space we take up in this life does impact the universe.
Indigenous people move through life in a manner  like the planet moves through the solar system. Respecting the space, perpetuating forward motion and not invading or usurping the position of other bodies  are paramount characteristics.  Recognizing that each space inhabited is unique and respected by other bodies is critical. Infringing on the space of others is not a thought. A peaceful understanding is intrinsic to the existence of life. Respectful awareness is a cornerstone of continued existence.

GY Brown is a Western North Carolina author: 7 Days to Forget. Available at and at  Email  On Thursday evening, December 1, 2011, you are invited to a special Reading and Book-signing at the Battery Park Book Exchange from 6:00 until 8:00 pm.
By Cherokee Wisdomkeeper, GY Brown

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker