The Best Thing to Give

We give every day.  Doctors and nurses, mothers, fathers, teachers, volunteers, police officers, firefighters, military men and women, all give as part of what they do.  We also give in other ways that may not come to mind when we think about the act of giving but can have life-changing effects.  In the quote below, Benjamin Franklin tells of the best things to give of all.

“The best thing to give
your enemy is forgiveness;
to an opponent, tolerance;
to a friend, your heart;
to your child, a good example;
to your father, deference;
to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you;
to yourself, respect; to all men charity.”

Some thoughts on these gifts in Franklin’s quote:

…your enemy is forgiveness – An old Chinese proverb says, “He who seeks vengeance must dig two graves: one for his enemy and one for himself.” This statement expresses so well the consequences for ourselves when we don’t forgive.  When we hold onto our grievance and pain, as Dr. Fred Luskin, forgiveness expert says, we can feel like an endless victim, stuck in our negativity.  Learning to forgive helps us to be less hostile and more hopeful.  Forgiving is not easy though, simple to understand but difficult to carry out.  But if we can release our need to be right or in many cases, let go of legitimate suffering, the past will no longer hold us back or grip us with anxiety and resentment.  We can now look towards the future, towards love, joy and most of all peace.  As Dr. Luskin says in step eight of his nine steps to forgiveness, “Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.”

to an opponent, tolerance – Sometimes we can get caught up in our own opinions, beliefs, and judgments and not always hear or be fully present to what others have to say, especially those we see as enemies or competition.  The sad part about it is that we can miss out on the enrichment or lesson that they can offer us.  Former Mexican president Benito Juarez said, “Respect for the rights of others means peace.”  Respecting and accepting another’s story, culture, religion, and opinions will breed tolerance, which makes for a more peaceful world.  

to a friend, your heart – In the book Random Acts of Kindness by Conari Press, there is a story about a woman whose life was going well and one Saturday she found herself with all her household chores done and nothing else to do. She thought about a friend at work who never seemed to have time, a single mother of two small children, and decided to pay her a visit.   When she arrived, she simply said to her friend, “Put me to work.”  The friend didn’t believe her at first but they spent the day cleaning like crazy and in between, playing and feeding the children.

In this story lies a great message.  The woman could have asked her friend if she needed any help and the woman in need may have declined her request, but because her friend just showed up, it left her little choice to say no.  This is true giving of the heart, a person who instead of choosing words, chose sincere and compassionate action.

to your child, a good example – Children are like sponges.  They model the behavior of their parents and other adults and at times, it can be shocking what they remember and repeat.  We can forget that they are absorbing every word and action.  As American Author Neil Postman said, “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”  So our acts of kindness, forgiveness, tolerance, courage and service will go along way into the future through our children.  These virtues will triumph over aggression, hatred, and bigotry, helping to lift up the world, one child at a time.

…to your father, deference –The importance of a father, a positive role model in a child’s life is well known.  Fathers provide the role of protector, a fixer of things, a soothing force in time of need.  But for many children and adults, they may not have a father there for them.  But no matter if a father was a good role model or not, he still remains a father and although respecting him may not be easy, it’s the clearest path to mending the relationship.  We all struggle with our demons and have limitations, but consider that it may be that forgiving your father who may not have been there for you is just what’s holding you back from living your potential.

to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you – Mothers will always give us unconditional love and more than likely, when we do something wrong, will be the first to come to our aid by listening and offering help.  The greatest gift we can give to our mothers is to be the best we can be, to do the right thing and be a good person.  We will make mistakes along the way, but with the awareness of choosing actions that honor and respect our mothers is the highest form of thanks for the beautiful life they have given us.

…to yourself, respect – Hard lessons are learned when we neglect to respect ourselves.  Bad relationships and jobs continue for years, confidence suffers and depression and anxiety may loom.  Living a life true to our needs, wants, standards and values is the greatest gift we can give ourselves.  When we respect ourselves on every level, in relationships, health, finances, spiritually, our lives are better and richer.  We forgive ourselves.  We forgive others.  We stand strong to our beliefs.  We go after our dreams, and we put what we want as a priority.

…to all men charity – Jack London said, “Charity is the bone shared with the dog when you are just as hungry as the dog. “  Life is filled with opportunities to serve others, on a small scale and a large one.  Choosing to help others in large ways such as volunteer work takes us out of ourselves, transforming others as well as ourselves.  We can all make a significant impact on the world with simple random acts of kindness, which will fuel happiness and open hearts.


  1. I love this post as ‘giving back’ has been the backbone of my life via the giving of my time, whether in the form of friendship, mentoring, or volunteering for a cause or assn.

    I’m often shocked at how many people watch hours and hours of TV, yet they say they’re “too busy” to volunteer! I guess we all have different priorities.

    • Doreen – you are a good human being and we should all look at you as an inspiration. I am one of those people that watches too much TV and my job takes over my life. I feel like it is about time to get up and do something! There are so many people that need help and encouragement in this world and I know I can make a difference – just give back, right? Even if its small. I will keep the Virtues for Life readers informed of my progress…Thanks for sharing.