A Limited Capacity to Give?

By | March 31, 2010

Geoff Livingston wrote an excellent post called How Much Give Can You Get? about how some studies suggest that people buying green products may actually be less altruistic after they do so.

“The study suggests people who have spent money on things they perceive to benefit society as a whole may feel they have “done their good deed for the day” and thus are more likely to choose less altruistically when presented with other ethical quandaries.” – BC Upham

I think it depends on the individual. Some people aspire to live a life of values & high standards because they themselves chose that path. These people will have a higher capacity to give in areas aligned with their values.

On the other hand, there are tons of people who feel social pressure to act in certain ways. They don’t really believe in sustainability. They don’t really believe races are equal. They don’t really believe in the organic & whole foods movement. They don’t really believe in many things parts of society are currently promoting. But they feel outnumbered, or don’t want to look bad, or they simply don’t want the hassle of arguing with someone over whether the burger they just ate will give them a heart attack and that they just slaughtered some cow. Or that their 20 page document they printed is destroying the rain forest.

These people often take an action they can use to justify to others that they are a good person. But the hidden message is “shut up.” Examples I have seen in other people include: “I buy green products, so shut up about the fact I don’t practice sustainability.” “My insurance agent is black, so shut up about the fact that I call black people from the ghetto racist names.” “I’ve done my good deed for the day, so leave me alone.” They say the first part, but the real message is the part after “so.” They can use their good deed to justify to themselves and others that they are indeed a “good person” while still keeping their original beliefs. It’s not really surprising that once the good deed is done, they are done. They never did the deed because they thought it was good. They did it to justify themselves.

There are also tons of people emotionally exhausted from giving all they could give, and at some point, they simply stop giving. Their cup is empty. They are already maxed out, giving to their family, friends, company, society, etc. So they buy some green products, smile knowing that they have saved the planet, and move on. Now they can focus on putting food on the table, or helping a sick friend or relative, or dealing with the drama that is their friends & family and/or co-workers. They already help people before they help themselves. They need to somehow recharge, which will help them regain their capacity to give, before they get burned out.

Then you have people living paycheck to paycheck, barely surviving. Perhaps battling with big issues both internally & externally. They are in survival mode, and instincts demand survival first, altruism second. Getting these people out of survival mode is what will expand their capacity to give.

Given the different people out there and the different “worlds” they live in, I am not surprised that people have a limited capacity to give. In reality there is no limit, but in their “world” there is. Handling peoples needs, whether that be changing their mindset, or helping them get beyond survival, or helping replenish a giver by being supportive so they don’t burn out or get overwhelmed, will be what increases people’s capacity to give.


Scott M. Stolz

Entrepreneur, Educator, Author.
Helping people embrace life's opportunities.™