An excerpt from the address at Pennsylvania University:
The more we learned from nature, and built a kind of inner resilience to external circumstances, the more we fell into our natural state — which was to be loving. In our dominant paradigm, Hollywood has insidiously co-opted the word, but the love I’m talking about here is the kind of love that only knows one thing — to give with no strings attached. Purely. Selflessly.
Most of us believe that to give, we first need to have something to give. The trouble with that is, that when we are taking stock of what we have, we almost always make accounting errors. Oscar Wilde once quipped, “Now-a-days, people know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.” We have forgotten how to value things without a price tag. Hence, when we get to our most abundant gifts — like attention, insight, compassion — we confuse their worth because they’re, well, priceless.
On our walking pilgrimage, we noticed that those who had the least were most readily equipped to honor the priceless. In urban cities, the people we encountered began with an unspoken wariness: “Why are you doing this? What do you want from me?” In the countryside, on the other hand, villagers almost always met us with an open-hearted curiosity launching straight in with: “Hey buddy, you don’t look local. What’s your story?”
In the villages, your worth wasn’t assessed by your business card, professional network or your salary. That innate simplicity allowed them to love life and cherish all its connections.
Extremely poor villagers, who couldn’t even afford their own meals, would often borrowed food from their neighbors to feed us. When we tried to refuse, they would simply explain: “To us, the guest is God. This is our offering to the divine in you that connects us to each other.” Now, how could one refuse that? Street vendors often gifted us vegetables; in a very touching moment, an arm-less fruit-seller once insisted on giving us a slice of watermelon. Everyone, no matter how old, would be overjoyed to give us directions, even when they weren’t fully sure of them. And I still remember the woman who generously gave us water when we were extremely thirsty — only to later discover that she had to walk 10 kilometers at 4AM to get that one bucket of water. These people knew how to give, not because they had a lot, but because they knew how to love life. They didn’t need any credit or assurance that you would ever return to pay them back. Rather, they just trusted in the pay-it-forward circle of giving.
When you come alive in this way, you’ll realize that true generosity does not start when you have some thing to give, but rather when there’s nothing in you that’s trying to take.