When to Give, When to Take

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I’ve noticed that when an organization is young—not necessarily by chronological age, but behaviorally—the people in that organization are prone to give. They work hard to build the organization, to achieve a mission. So, they're all "giving." Giving energy.

 As an aging organization loses sight of its mission, stops building, stops changing, the energy of the people that comprise it converts to taking rather than giving. Everybody's trying to milk the organization, which accelerates its death. The stockholders want maximal dividends, the management wants to maximize their take-home income, and the workers want maximum benefits and salary increases. Every stakeholder of the organization is pulling out their piece of benefits. And the same thing apparently applies to human beings. When we are young, behaviorally, we are enthusiastic. We have a mission. We want to change the world. We want to create something different. We give ourselves to our organization, to the world. We work hard on our external environment. When we start aging, we realize our days are numbered, there are not as many left. And we start thinking: What am I going to do with the rest of my life? Giving is not as exciting anymore because we realize, I think, that we are not going to benefit from our contributions. So, we start to look for ways to enjoy life, to benefit from and experience life before it's too late. And we convert from giving to taking—taking from life, traveling, enjoying—rather than sacrificing the time we have left for a future we will not enjoy. We might do some small philanthropic work so as not to feel guilty, but that's where it ends. Most of what we do is taking. That's why some older people, no matter how rich, are stingy. They don't like to give. They like to keep. This is reflected in their daily lives, too. They conserve their energy which is in decline. But it doesn't have to be this way. Age is not chronological, it’s behavioral. I know people in their nineties who are still giving. They're trying to figure out what else they can do in the days they have left to contribute to and make a better world. They're still young in spirit.

 One way to find out whether you're behaviorally young or old is to look at how much are you giving versus how much are you taking. And there is a possible conclusion here: if you want to live longer, and “live young,” despite being physically older, never lose your passion for contributing to whatever is bigger than you. Plant a tree. Don’t worry about whether or not you will live long enough to sit in its shade.

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes
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