I thought long and hard about what to give Bethany, my girlfriend, for her birthday this year. I wanted the gift to be a creative way to remember some of our best moments together. Working my way through many iterations of this potential gift I finally landed on an idea that seemed to have potential.
I found a bulletin board with a natural wood frame and a surface that resembled canvas. Realizing that it was not only Bethany's style but also a great way remember our adventures, I knew that I had finally uncovered the right gift. There was no shortage of ideas for how I could arrange mementos and inspiration on this board for her wall. The problem was that even though I like to think of myself as creative she is much more artistic. I wanted to choose the best art and memories and to arrange them in the most aesthetically pleasing way.
A few days before giving Bethany the gift I finally made my discovery. The best gift that I could give her was to empower her to use her creativity to enrich her own life. Instead of doing something else for the day and adding the gift into the mix, making the board together could actually be our celebration.
Energized by this newfound inspiration, I traveled around to art stores looking for artistic additions for our board and even found some old nautical charts at a marine supply shop. Combining these discoveries with the treasures that we had already saved from the past gave plenty of material to add to her board.
The day that I gave Bethany her gift and helped her put it together was one of our best times together yet. Going through our old memories and future inspirations raised engaging conversations. Rather than being a passive recipient, Bethany came alive as an active participant, using her creativity with joyous energy.
I learned something important from this situation. The best gift is not merely to give things to people but to stimulate them to use their creativity to enrich their own lives.
This is making me think about the work that I am trying to do in Africa right now. For the last several years I have been trying to figure out how to help develop a community in central Kenya by helping them secure a much-needed well. Most of the time my thought has been that if the job is going to be done I will have to provide the funds to make it happen.
"The best gift is not merely to give things to people but to stimulate them to use their creativity to enrich their own lives."
I attended a conference recently called Ending Poverty Together where Cory Glazier helped me to rethink my approach. The idea that he helped instill into my thinking is that the best gift you can give a community is to help empower them to solve their own problems.
When development is human-centered and the community goes from being recipients to participants, they can discover that they have the capacity to change their own situation for the better. I felt unsettled about my old approach anyway so now I'm rethinking how to give the best gift that I can to my friends in Kenya.