This TED talk by a musician, Amanda Palmer, on “The Art of Asking” really resonated with some of my own recent experiences of giving and receiving. It’s not a classical Buddhist “dana talk” – it even features some brief nudity – but her courage in being willing to connect with a diverse cross-section of people, to be vulnerable, and to give and receive without shame is quite inspiring.
“… I was a self-employed living statue called the 8-Foot Bride … I painted myself white one day, stood on a box, put a hat or a can at my feet, and when someone came by and dropped in money, I handed them a flower and some intense eye contact. … So I had the most profound encounters with people, especially lonely people who looked like they hadn’t talked to anyone in weeks, and we would get this beautiful moment of prolonged eye contact being allowed in a city street, and we would sort of fall in love a little bit. And my eyes would say, “Thank you. I see you.” And their eyes would say, “Nobody ever sees me. Thank you.”
… And the media asked, “Amanda, the music business is tanking and you encourage piracy. [by offering her music on-line with no set price] How did you make all these people pay for music?” And the real answer is, I didn’t make them. I asked them. And through the very act of asking people, I’d connected with them, and when you connect with them, people want to help you. It’s kind of counter-intuitive for a lot of artists. They don’t want to ask for things. But it’s not easy. It’s not easy to ask. And a lot of artists have a problem with this. Asking makes you vulnerable.”
Asking makes you vulnerable, but offering can too, and so can receiving. After listening to her talk, instead of trying to somehow “get beyond” that vulnerability, I’m starting to appreciate it as a sign of genuine generosity.