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June 5, 2013

Give a Little

TED talks--where ideas hit the big time--explore the importance of generosity

The commons is, at its essence, the act of giving and receiving carried out on a massive scale across all levels of society. It seems apparent that generosity is hard-wired into human beings, despite several centuries of fevered protest from figures such as Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman and Richard Dawkins that we are guided by self-interest.

So it’s great news that the subject of giving has recently surfaced in a number of TED talks—the influential video lecture circuit that increasingly functions as the ideas soundtrack for the 2010s.

Excerpts from four of these talks are featured in the recent “Giving It Away” edition of NPR’s “Ted Radio Hour”:http://blog.ted.com/2013/05/17/giving-it-away-ted-radio-hour-examines-generosity-and-philanthropy.

Volunteer firefighter Mark Bezos opens the show by noting that everyday generosity is just as important as heroic acts. “It’s so easy to dismiss the opportunity to do something good because you are waiting to do something great,” he says, describing his first night fighting a fire in Scarsdale, New York. He didn’t save anyone’s life, but he did bring comfort to a stricken homeowner by dashing into the burning house to retrieve her shoes on a chilly evening.

“If you have something to give, give it now,” he advises. “Work in a soup kitchen. Help clean up a neighborhood park. Be a mentor. Not every day offers the chance to save someone’s life. But every day offers an opportunity to affect one. Get in the game.”

Ron Finley, who calls himself a gangster gardener, grows organic fruits and vegetables in the front yard of his home in South Central Los Angeles. The food is there for anyone to take, he says. “It feels good to be able to share, to give.”

Finley’s hope is to change the eating habits of people in Los Angeles, which he notes is “the home of the drive-through and the drive-by. And the drive-through is now killing more people than the drive by.”

The show also shares thoughts from Dan Pallotta, who challenges the prevailing view that charities must be narrowly focused on solving problems right now, rather than building capacity to accomplish more over the long run.

Raucous post-punk rocker Amanda Palmer closes the show outlining her discovery of how to make a living by giving music away. How? Build trust. Make connections. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.