By David Stanczak
Periodically, and always at unexpected times, I get real insights from my son, Kyle, who lives in the Denver area. Last week was one of those times.
A couple weeks ago, Kyle was in the mood for a cheap, filling lunch at Sam’s Club. [Disclaimer: while I have no financial interest in Sam’s, I am a member]. As he neared the store, he was approached by a homeless person, who hit him up for food money. Kyle explained that he didn’t carry cash and went in the store. He ordered two slices of pizza without realizing their enormity, but could only finish one. He left the store intent on finding the hungry man and giving him the other slice. He found him and offered him the other slice, only to be told that the man was no longer hungry because a lady had given him a whole rotisserie chicken. As Kyle left, the man thanked him, sincerely. Puzzled at the gratitude, Kyle asked why the man thanked him when he hadn’t given him anything. The man replied, again sincerely, “Because you gave me a little bit of your time.” The response was simple, yet profound. The man was grateful that someone was willing to take a little time out of his day to try to help him, even though the action had no monetary or nutritional value.
We are often solicited for donations by a vast array of charities. Some of the solicitations go in the waste basket; others result in a donation of money in some amount. The money, no matter the amount, is generally replaceable. In most cases, when we give, we expect that the gift will be replaced with future income from some source: earnings, rent, dividends, pension, 401(k), etc. The money, thus, does not represent a permanent depletion of financial resources
But the time we give to another, whether an individual, a charity, or God, is a different matter. For all practical purposes, it is not replenishable. When it’s gone, it’s gone, never to be replaced. There’s a famous bit of investment advice that says, “Buy land; they ain‘t making any more of it.” The maxim applies a fortiori to time. Sure, you may be able to “make” more time by eating, exercising and behaving prudently so as to prolong your life. But even if that sensible plan to create more time isn’t ruined by an oncoming bus, you can’t meaningfully go out and manufacture another hour to make up for the hour you spent working at a food pantry or soup kitchen, helping to put on a charitable event, or just sitting with a friend who needs an ear.
Professionals charge for their time in a commercial context, and we expect to pay them for it. But all time spent has a value. A couple corollaries flow from this realization. First, if you are the donor, recognize that, to the done, the gift of your time is valuable. Time spent with a close friend or loved one may be a greater gift than anything you could get them online. Second, if you are the donee, don’t take for granted the gift of another’s time. They have given you something they can never replace; they have given you part of themselves.
I’m not going to try to tell anyone how to spend their unreplenishable time, however much or little it may be; that would be more presumptuous than trying to tell them how to spend their money. I’m just passing on a bit of wisdom from a homeless guy in Denver. Thanks for taking your time to read this.
David Stanczak, a WJBC commentator since 1995, came to Bloomington in 1971. He served as the City of Bloomington’s first full-time legal counsel for over 18 years, before entering private practice. He is currently employed by the Snyder Companies and continues to reside in Bloomington with his family.
The opinions expressed within WJBC’s Voices are solely those of the Voices’ author, and are not necessarily those of WJBC or Cumulus Media, Inc.