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Since being asked to step in as the next VP for the Caring Connections Team, I’ve thought a lot about belonging. At a recent talk to the congregation, I mentioned the notion of “emotional philanthropy.” The term seems to have resonated with so many of you, so I decided to dig a little deeper. I was able to locate the person who coined the phrase and had the pleasure of interviewing her on the phone. Here’s what I learned.

Judith Zausner is a 74-year-old Jewish entrepreneur who lives in Philadelphia. She has spent a good portion of her recent adult life creating a creativity curriculum for the older generations, especially those who are confined and no longer able to live fully independently. Judith has brought her verve and creative spirit to this good work, and to the conversation with me. She was thrilled to hear that a phrase she coined over twenty years ago was finding new ways of being.

In the interview, I asked Judith what led to her coming up with the idea. She told me that “philanthropy” was always considered an isolated word having to do with financial support, but she was not able to provide that at the time. Instead, she states, “I gave in other ways, I gave of myself.”

She said that she has always been conscious of what she is doing for others, and what others are doing for her. She says that it’s a balance, like a bank; “not a tit for tat, but, in the universe, you have to manage both sides. There is action on both sides.”

I told her about our community at TBE. I told her we are a community of givers, but that I found that many of us are uncomfortable receiving, and in fact refuse assistance when offered, saying that the assistance is more needed by someone else. I asked her how our community can encourage its members to receive, at times in their lives when receiving could serve to connect, heal or help them.

Judith told me that emotional philanthropy requires that, at certain points in life, we give someone else the opportunity to give to us. 

She went on to explain that it honors the giver by accepting what they would like to give. It’s their pleasure to give, it fills their heart and makes their life even more meaningful.

A community of emotional philanthropists is a community of members that give of themselves, and are open to receiving from others. It’s not about financial help, or even need. It’s about filling each other’s “emotional bank,” so that these “banks” are always replenished and able to keep giving.

Judith shared with me, when asked, that she is not very good at receiving. I asked her, knowing how well she understood this balance, what led to that discomfort. I asked her, couldn’t we see that “bank” as spanning over the entire arc of someone’s life? In other words, that there are times to give, and times to be open to receive? She thought about that for a minute, as she tried to reconcile her philosophy with the way she really lives.

And here is what she said: “I live in the moment, and in this moment, in the present, I want to give, not to receive.” 

And therein lies the difficulty in balancing our emotional ledgers. Even for Judith, who coined the phrase.

In order to make room for giving, we must also receive. We bring a meal not because someone can’t afford a meal, but because it’s a way of showing we care. We call not because someone “needs” a call, but because we want to connect.

Judith says she still strives for this balance, and that it’s never easy to receive. “Every day we’re given the opportunity to give and to receive.” She acknowledges that at some points in our lives we can give more of ourselves than others. She says, “we look at the person who’s giving and let them give. It honors them. And it fosters the giver to give more, because they’re respected, because they’re honored, because they get positive feedback. They need to see it as their part to contribute to the greater whole, the greater circle. And if they see it that way, they won’t be so reluctant to receiving.”

My take away? Emotional philanthropy is the realization that giving can also be of ourselves, our time and our talents. It is filling our hearts with the joy of giving, of connecting and of being there for others. And, just as importantly, it requires openness to receiving when it is our time to receive. Both sides are equally important, and allow us to achieve a balanced, cohesive and caring community.

Judith and I so enjoyed our talk, that we are going to stay in touch. She was thrilled that her phrase caught our attention and may help bring even more meaning into people’s lives. I was thrilled to find the woman who took the well-known idea of philanthropy, and showed us a different dimension that has the power to change how we see our connection with each other.

Two women, one in her 50s and the other in her 70s, from two different cities, having a wonderful conversation about what it is to give, and what it is to receive, and why both are so important.

Emotional philanthropy. Sounds good to me.

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