Saturday, February 17, 2018

Generosity Knows No Need

Alright.  This post is a bit different so let’s agree to stay with it to the end.  Most of the moments of my life pass and I don’t pause to deeply reflect on them or assimilate “deeper wisdom” from them.  This is not one of those “most moments”.  This one is special.

I don’t know when human relationships started being transactional.  And try as I might, I can’t for the life of me see a rationale for that behavior.  Each day of my existence has been viewed through a simple lens.  I exist.  I exist in a context made up of others, a plethora of matter and energy, and the sum of all the experiences I and others have had and elect to share in some fashion.  And the “doing” of what I do involves perception, activation, design, conscription, action, reaction awareness, synthesis into experience and the cycle starts again.  For better or for worse, I don’t have a default that includes concepts like approval, permission, or validation as these are, in the end, notions that require the caprice of others – something that I have found largely unhelpful.

Due to my default towards self-directed action, the majority of those in my communities of influence assume that I “have all I need” and “there’s nothing that they can do to help.”  The former is almost true.  The latter is patently false.  But it’s not quite that simple. 

The value of the worldview with which I operate is a central understanding that I, and all of us, have ALL.  The notion of “need” – the very construct of the impulse that bears that name – is objectively erroneous.  We live in a world where abundance is reality and the illusion of “need” is derived from the unequal distribution of, and access to – not to the objective quantity of – anything.  (I find it fascinating that our common use of the term “need” has tripled in the last century suggesting that the industrio-consumer illusion is making us less satisfied.)  In short, when I do something, I don’t “need” anything as it is mine to accomplish the undertaking with the resources and energy I can conscript and engage. 

The corollary about nothing to do to help is incorrect.  While I’ve spent most of my life as an opportunity alchemist – in other words, taking what wasn’t visible and rendering it accessible and functional – I’ve done so in an effort to demonstrate the persistent and generative possibility of that mode of action in others.  I don’t do a thing so that others do it.  But I do do things, in part, to demonstrate that they can be done by merely engaging as a conscious being.  This distinction is important.  The motivation to act in every instance emanates from within an endogenous (internal) process.  And the action is not taken for a transactional return.  All that said, over the past several decades, I’ve been deeply saddened by the individuals I’ve experienced that come to expect benefit, absorb goodness, and neglect activating an equivalent mode of engagement in their own spheres.  When people come to expect a benefactor to “just be there” without considering the well-being of that person, resentment arises not from the absence of a transaction but from the neglect to enliven for the benefit of others.

Bottom line: there’s Enough to Go Around to quote my friend Chip Duncan’s book title.

Two parables in the New Testament of The Bible are wonderful examples of this.  The first, from Luke 17:11-19 is the story of 10 sick men who experience a healing.  The healer doesn’t heal expecting to be thanked.  He heals because he perceives the suffering of the men.  One, a foreigner, returns to thank the healer.  The other nine take and acknowledge nothing.  The other story is from Matthew 18:23-34.  In this story a debtor is forgiven a large debt by a king.  Once forgiven the debtor goes out and finds a servant who owes him money and, rather than perpetuating the mercy he’d just received, forces the servant to pay his debt.  Both of these stories (and thousands more) tell of acts of kindness, mercy, goodness, courage or generosity that are done.  Not FOR something.  They’re just done.  But the grievous offence is when the recipient of goodness does not then go on to embody and engage the same.  Goodness, like Light, just emanates.  When it’s absorbed or experienced, that’s great.  But when it doesn’t experience a propagation – NOT a reflection – then darkness builds. 

Now this is a long way to get to the beginning of this week’s post.  But you’ll see that it was worth the wait in a moment. 

Nineteen years ago, a dentist walked into my office with a polymer licensed from a regional university.  His aspiration was to use the polymer for the treatment of xerostomia – a painful condition afflicting many of his patients.  To his consternation, he learned that the pharmaceutical company selling a highly ineffective treatment for the disorder at exorbitant prices filed and owned a patent blocking a non-pharmaceutical intervention.  In other words, the drug company decided to make sure that their drug was the only solution available despite its limited effectiveness.  Holding the polymer in my hands, I suggested that the material could be used to cover burns and wounds and do so without harming the healing tissue.  The dentist and his business partner left and formed a company which today has healed the wounds of thousands.  In 2009 I was asked to develop a strategic product roadmap for the company and suggested a number of products which would address various infectious diseases and other health concerns.  One – a means of addressing the proliferation of MRSA – showed some early promise in military medicine.

A few weeks ago, I received a letter.  In it I was advised of a new commercial venture that was being considered based on one of my suggestions from a follow-up briefing in 2011.  “What would I need,” to be involved was the gist of the letter.

Yesterday, the same dentist and his wife came to my office.  As we gathered, I expressed my deep gratitude for the fact that this meeting represented the first time that anyone has returned to include me in a commercial idea that I gave them.  Billions of dollars have been made on ideas that surfaced from me.  This was the first time anyone came back to acknowledge and engage!  We sat down and had a deep conversation about the journey from 1999 to the present.  We talked about the ups and downs of the two-decade effort to build a company that now serves patients across the country.  We talked about the importance of keeping humanity in business.  We talked about the distraction and resentment that can come from being overlooked and ignored for the contributions that you make for the benefit of others.  We talked about the toll that our innovation ecosystems had placed on our families and relationships.  But most of all, we expressed gratitude for the fact that we shared common values about alleviating the physical suffering of people.  The greatest reward we both had experienced was the recognition that anonymous beneficiaries had better lives because our lives had intersected, activated and propagated goodness.

As I reflected on the conversation, I realized something quite profound.  This unsolicited impulse to re-engage, include, and collaborate ignited within me a strange new spark.  The ease with which the strategic roadmap for the new business flowed was effortless.  The provisioning for taking the first step to prototype was in place by the time the meeting ended.  By being fully human, by sharing a common commitment to hold gratitude as the cornerstone of our interaction, and by integrating whole-of-life conversations – not the B.S. that tries to keep “business” and “personal” apart – we put into motion commercial and social greatness that will keep us going for the next 20 years.

I’m the beneficiary of effervescent goodness.  I didn’t need it.  I didn’t want it.  But let me tell you what!  My life is the better for it.  Thank you, Guy and Robin Levy!



  1. That is wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Hello, David:
    This is a very beautiful description of the deepest essence of what being human means,beyond all morals, religions, ideologies and social beliefs. Thank you very much for sharing it with us and always pointing with your finger the moon.
    Again thank you!!!

  3. David, This and the previous article excellent as always. Been thinking about you. Leland


Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave