The Five Year Old Guru of Giving
The Five Year Old Guru of Giving
Ben Boquist

A few years ago, while I was working as the assistant in a Kindergarten/ 1st grade classroom, I witnessed one of the most beautiful displays of generosity I have ever seen. Several of the incoming kindergarteners were new to Walden, but a few had been here since Pre-K. These "experienced" kindergarteners were familiar with the space and had relationships from the previous year. As such, they were more comfortable and confident than the new students.

Among the new students, was one very anxious girl we'll call Beth. Beth cried often and had a hard time socially. On the playground, she would sit by herself or cling to her teachers. The noises and activities overwhelmed her. Another little girl, we'll call Katie, was one of those "experienced" ones and made it her mission to share her friends and her expertise with Beth. I watched over several days as she sought her out, sat next to her, and patiently convinced her to join whatever games were happening in the sandbox. I also watched as she introduced her to other kids and showed her how to use the playground equipment. In short, I watched her share what currency she had (relationships, confidence, and knowledge of the school) with someone who had less. She did this faithfully those first several days until the two were on equal footing.

Katie's generosity with Beth was beautiful to see. It was completely unprompted and unselfish. It sprang naturally from an abundance of empathy, and I suspect from some excellent parenting.

And, science tells us, it will likely benefit Katie as much if not more than Beth. According to research conducted by the Chicago Tribune, there are significant health benefits to giving. Some of these include lower blood pressure, lower risk of dementia, less anxiety and depression, and increased overall happiness.

(Read full Chicago Tribune Study here)

Or, as Stephen G. Post, founding director of the Center for Medical Humanities writes:

"[Generosity] moves people into the present and distracts the mind from the stresses and problems of the self. Many studies show that one of the best ways to deal with the hardships in life is not to just center on yourself but to take the opportunity to engage in simple acts of kindness."

The same article also revealed this interesting finding:

"An online national survey of 4,500 American adults (the 2010 United Healthcare/Volunteer Match Do Good Live Well Study) found that people who volunteer have less trouble sleeping, less anxiety, less helplessness and hopelessness, better friendships and social networks, and a sense of control over chronic conditions."

While these findings are interesting, they are also not news to many here at Walden. Generosity is a hallmark of the Walden community at every level. Teachers experience it with the abundance of holiday and end of the year gifts from parents. Staff members experience it from peers who are selfless with their time and resources. As I type this blog, I am looking at a wall of handwritten cards from children tacked behind my desk. This community is an abundantly generous one.

It is with this great tradition of generosity at Walden in mind that I remind our community members about another great opportunity to give. Tuesday, November 29th is the launch of our Giving Tuesday Campaign for the Walden Fund. Among other things, this fund supports scholarships, literally giving the gift of Walden to students and families who might otherwise not have access.

I opened with the story of Beth and Katie. I am pleased to say that because of Katie's giving spirit, Beth was quickly initiated into the Walden community. As usually happens with five year olds, it was pretty fast work. By the second week of school, the anxiety and nervousness were replaced with mud pies and elaborate community sand projects. In that first week of the school year, I remembered thinking that Katie had become my teacher. It's my hope that her generosity inspires you as much as it did me.