I love the movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and not just because Scarlett Johansson stars in it. Vicky and Christina are American friends spending the summer in Barcelona. Christina is free spirited, adventurous and self destructive. Vicky is uptight, cautious and analytical. The movie revolves around their steamy love triangle with the Portugese artist, Juan Antonio, played by Javier Bardem.
Juan Antonio takes Vicky to meet his Dad, a brilliant poet who for many years has refused to publish his work. The following conversation takes place between Juan Antonio and Vicky.
Vicky: “So, uh, tell me, why won’t your father publish his poems?”
Juan Antonio: Well, because he hates the world, and that’s his way of getting back at them — to create beautiful works and then . . . to deny them to the public.”
Vicky: “ My God. Well, what makes him so . . . angry toward the human race?”
Juan Antonio: “Mm, because after thousands of years of civilization . . . they still haven’t learned to love.”
I can understand his frustration, but stinginess won’t teach the world to love. On the contrary, it will just spread more fear and mistrust and create an unending cycle of scarcity. The world doesn’t need to be punished for its imperfection. It needs to be healed; and that will only happen when we overcome the fear that giving is losing, and dispel the myth that generosity is risky. Fear that masquerades as stinginess grows like a cancer when left unchecked.
Stinginess has all sorts of sneaky ways of manifesting in your life, each with a fear shaped shadow trailing behind. Whether it’s related to money or praise or a helping hand, stinginess is an outer manifestation of an inner fear. In the movie, Cristina is stingy with commitment, fearing the loss of independence. VIcky is stingy with spontaneity, fearing the loss of control.
What are your moments of miserly meanness? At what points does stinginess leave a sting in your life?
Maybe you withhold praise, afraid you might lose your status.
Maybe you withhold challenge, afraid that you might lose a friend.
Maybe you withhold affection, afraid that you might be rejected and lose face.
Maybe you withhold love, afraid that you might lose your power.
Maybe you withhold wisdom, afraid you might lose your edge.
Maybe you withhold emotion, afraid you might lose your cool.
Maybe you withhold generosity, afraid you might lose your lifestyle.
Maybe you withhold an apology, afraid you might lose the upperhand.
Maybe you withhold forgiveness, afraid you might lose the excuse to stay angry.
Maybe you withhold your best in the world, afraid that your best is not good enough.
In each case you are afraid you will lose something, so you play it safe and keep the cards of your generosity close to your chest. Fear, fear and more fear. Stinginess is a way of playing small in the world, as if kindness is in short supply and if you just keep your head down no one will notice or need you.
But people do need you and people do notice you. Your stinginess neither serves the world nor does it serve you. In fact, it is the cause of so much pain in your life. Conquer stinginess by conquering fear, and believe that your thoughts, words and actions are an essential part of the fabric of life. Nothing is lost when you give with a big heart – and so much is gained. The truth is that when you give something, you haven’t lost it. You have created more of it. Despite what Phil Collins sang in the 1980s, there IS enough love to go around. We can all dwell in abundance.
The 14th century Saint, Catherine of Sienna encouraged everyone to be all that they could be in a world in such need of healing. “Hold nothing back,” she said. Her mantra, “You make the heart big, not stingy – so big it has room in its loving charity for everyone.”
So what are you waiting for? Whatever you think is lacking in your life, give it to others. Watch the appreciation, affection and compassion flood back into your life. You get what you give in precise measure because the act of giving reminds you of what is inside of you to begin with.
Sometimes your acts of kindness literally return to you. A farmer in South Dakota lived in a remote area, and her old and frail father lived about 12 miles away. One day as the farmer was driving home she saw a car by the side of the road. She didn’t usually stop for strangers, but for some reason decided to stop and see if the man peering into his smoking engine was all right. She drove to a neighboring farm, picked up some water and got the man’s car moving again. He was profusely thankful, and reached into his wallet to offer her money. She refused the money, and suggested that instead of paying her back, he could pay the kindness forward by helping the next person he saw broken down by the side of the road. The man agreed and they went their separate ways.
Two weeks later, the farmer’s father called with an interesting story. He had gone to an auction about 50 miles away and had a flat tire. His daughter was horrified. She knew that he had been on a deserted strip of road that very few people drive on; and she knew that her father wouldn’t have had the strength to change the tire himself.
The father said, “You wouldn’t believe it. A man stopped to help me. I offered to pay him after he changed my tire. He refused the money and said that two weeks ago a woman had stopped to help him when he broke down and he was repaying this woman by helping me.”
Give something valuable away today. Give a compliment. Give blood. Give a beaming smile that stops someone in their tracks. Give a gift for no particular reason. Give mercy. What word is in the middle of the word “forgiveness”? Give! Don’t be stingy with forgiveness. Give the benefit of the doubt. Give second chances. Accept that others are doing the best they can, and the same river of acceptance will flow freely back to you. Give freely and feel your own wealth multiplying with each gift. You are becoming fuller and more fulfilled with each act of kindness. The seed of love is in the palm of your hand and on the tip of your tongue.