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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Open your hand

By Patti Digh

“To receive everything, one must open one's hands and give.” 
~ Taisen Deshimaru ~

“If my hands are fully occupied in holding on to something, 
I can neither give nor receive.”  
~ Dorothee Solle ~

One of the wisest people I know is a man named Eliav Zakay from Israel, CEO of a national youth leadership program there and formerly with the Israel Defense Force Leadership Development School. I met Eliav in 1995, having gone to the Israeli resort town of Eilat to speak at a conference on international organization development issues which he and many of his Defense Force team attended. Serendipity brought us together—we were both part of a small, fictional country during a global simulation that occurred at the start of the conference. Neither of us being particularly fond of fake games that pit imaginary parts of the world against each other, we endured the global wrangling and as soon as was politely possible escaped for a coffee, a tour of the underwater aquarium, and a rather interesting kayak ride that ended with the former tank commander in the brink. He has been a source of wisdom and humor ever since.

Eliav once told me a story that has stuck with me. Now, ten years later as we enter middle age, he swears it was not he who told me this story, but I will believe until my dying day that it was. It was an important story for me, so I think he should just take credit for it and stop denying it.

While still in the Israel Defense Force, his commander took him to the beach one day. “Eliav,” he said, “pick up two handfuls of sand.” Eliav did as he was told. “Now,” said the commander, “keep one hand open and clench the other into as tight a fist as you can.”

Again, Eliav did as he was told.

“Now,” said the commander, “open the clenched fist and compare how much sand you have in each hand—the hand you clenched and the one you left open.”

“Which one,” he asked, “has the most sand in it?”

“The open hand,” said Eliav. “It is the open hand.”

In trying to hold onto the sand, we squeeze it out.

There are people in life who hold their hand open, and there are those whose hands are shut. Which am I, I wonder? Which are you?

What does it take to have a generous nature, to hold your hand open, to live a life in which you give when you don’t have, when you give rather than hold, and when you are generous enough to see the deeply rich humanity in people unlike you?

Generosity, it turns out, is a way of being in the world, not a way of giving in the world. It has little to do with giving gifts, and everything to do with giving space to others to be who they are.

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