The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good. Samuel Johnson

I’m in Boston watching my daughter race and one thing I always like to do is drive myself to the airport. I can be a bit of a Nervous Nelly in a car (understatement) and I prefer to drive myself – (yes, likely a control issue warranting therapy!). But I have a friend who really wanted to drive me to the airport. I had a million excuses – you know what I mean? The kind of excuses we make up when we don’t want someone to help us. But, he was just looking to do something selfless for me – so I reluctantly agreed.

Some people say there’s no such thing as a selfless act. That any time we do something to help another person, we’re looking to get something in return. Even the feeling of helping is something we get from giving. And, we all do this, right? We want to provide value to our clients, our families and our partners. It’s the number one buzz-word in business.

But there’s something we often miss –

It’s selfless if we give with zero expectation of return.

What does that mean, “zero expectation?” Recently I’ve been asking myself if I have “zero expectation” when I’m giving.  I want to be sure that I’m actually giving for love and not control or something else in return.

And, I’ve been wondering – is this something we can teach to our children – how to give unconditionally?  I have no answer to that other than to live by example. So, here are a few ideas I came up with:

  • When you have some money to give that you won’t need, just give it and pretend you never had it.
  • Let someone vent even when you can’t solve the problem.
  • Listen to someone without judgment or comment.
  • Share your life difficulties so others know they’re not alone.
  • Tell someone how you feel about them and show your vulnerability by doing so.
  • Apologize. Even when you don’t feel you were wrong.
  • Change your plans to meet the needs of someone else.
  • Tell someone you believe in them.

I want to be clear that letting go of expectations doesn’t mean you let others treat you badly. Keep your boundaries. But, people who care about us will respect our boundaries.

I once knew someone who would “give” but sometime later I would hear him say that the person he “gave” to, never thanked him or did X, Y, or Z for him. He was actually giving to get.  That was sad for me to watch. He was missing life’s point.

Friends, when we learn to give without expecting anything in return, it’s a win for everyone. And in that way, and without much effort, maybe we can change the world one little gift at a time.

To my friend: I’ll see you on Sunday when you pick me up at the airport!