I am writing this month’s newsletter having just come home to Los Angeles after a two-week trip to the West African country of Nigeria. This is my father’s birthplace, and we returned as a family after not having been for almost 25 years. It is so difficult to describe the experience. Nigeria is in many ways a beautiful country. The people we met were warm and welcoming and I was awed by the fierce sense of family and generosity of spirit. It is also, however, a country ravaged by corruption, poverty, hunger, illness and the constant struggle to meet even the most basic of needs. As I empty my suitcase, throwing clothes in the washing machine, lights on throughout the house and music playing on the stereo in the living room, I think of the children we met who walk over two miles each way, every day, to collect river water that is very likely contaminated. The idea of turning on a tap and having any water, let alone hot water, come out of it, is completely foreign to most of the population. Almost everything is done outside – cooking, washing, bathing – so as to utilize any available daylight. It is impossible not to feel shame at how much I take for granted, and yet to simultaneously breathe a sigh of relief that my father “escaped.” That he built a life in the US. That my brother, sister and I were given every opportunity that this country affords.
The truth is that we don’t have to travel as far as Africa to get in touch with how very lucky we are. We all know that there are countless people and organizations that desperately need our help. Perhaps you have a particular charity that is close to your heart, a cause over which you would love to wave a magic wand and change for the better. Most of us would love to make a difference in the world. However, we don’t give much of our time because we are so busy working for a living. We don’t give much of our money because we feel like we aren’t even making enough to cover our own needs.
As individuals, we have an overwhelming tendency to focus on scarcity. We cling to every penny we earn, constantly worrying about not having enough. How can we even begin to think about giving money away when we are not even sure we can cover our own bills? Staying stuck in this negative mental cycle is a large part of what keeps us stuck financially. This month I want to share an important and powerful financial principle, that when implemented will almost magically get you out of this financial rut: Automatic Tithing.
Tithing is the spiritual principle of giving some of what you receive. Many of us have heard of tithing in the context of a particular religion. It is, however, a term that encompasses all charitable giving, and is not limited to religious organizations.
There is a wonderful chapter on tithing in a book I recommend to everyone called The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach. In it he states: “Although you should give simply for the sake of giving, the reality is that abundance tends to flow back to those who give. The more you give, the more comes back to you. It is the flow of abundance that brings us more joy, more love, more wealth, and more meaning in our lives. Generally speaking, the more you give, the wealthier you feel. And it’s not just a feeling. As strange as it may seem, the truth is that money often flows faster to those who give. Why? Because givers attract abundance into their lives rather than scarcity.” It is clear that Mr. Bach includes the concept of tithing in his book, because building wealth is not just about the difference you will make in your own life: it is also about the difference you will make in the lives of others.
By now you probably have a list of New Years’ resolutions. I would like to encourage you to add one more. Make a commitment to give a percentage of everything you earn in 2006 to a charity or charities of your choice. It doesn’t matter how much. It’s okay to start small. The percentage can always grow. Just decide in advance what it is going to be and, whenever you receive a paycheck, whether from an acting job or a day job, immediately make the appropriate donation. The key is that you do it right away! If you wait until the end of the year, no matter how good your intentions, you will generally find there is nothing left to give.
Tithing is not a completely selfless act – doing it will make you feel great, and provides a sense of control that comes with exercising the power to do what you want with your money. You will know that you are making the choice now to do good in the world. That knowledge alone will give you an energy and positive spirit that cannot help but affect every area of your life.