Imagine you’re a cave man. You kill some animal and you want to eat it. Every calorie is a precious treasure in this environment; you’re eternally on the very brink of starvation. And yet instead of gorging yourself on your kill, you share it with little teeny tiny versions of yourself, despite the fact that they can’t help you with anything.
In one sense, you do it out of love, or maybe a biological imperative depending on your relative level of cynicism. But you also do it because it’s an investment – eventually if you keep feeding those little ones they’ll become big ones, strong and fast enough to hunt with you, and get even more food. Three people hunting together can bring in much more than three times the amount of food that one person alone can, so there are some very nice dividends here.
Humans create resources. We have amazing powers to transform our environment, turning raw matter into things useful to us. Sharing resources sometimes seems scary – “what if there isn’t enough for everyone?” – but ultimately resources invested in others pay huge dividends back to you, and to society.
The greatest breakthrough, then, came when we developed resources that you could give away but still keep. Knowledge, language, communication, music, encouragement – all these things provide real and tangible benefit to others, but take nothing away from you. As Thomas Jefferson said: “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”
It’s possible that you could give someone a car, and as a result of that car they’re able to get a better job than they otherwise would, which lets them invest more money into their own development, which lets them command an even greater income in the future, and eventually this person is far wealthier than they would otherwise have been and they pay you back many times the value of the initial car in one way or another. But even if that were the guaranteed outcome, a car is a tangible resource that costs you money – unless you have a bunch of cars just laying around to give to people, it might not be feasible that you can do that.
But giving away knowledge – not only can that pay even higher dividends to you, but the cost of doing so is damned near to zero. (“Near to,” since of course time is still a resource to consider – but with modern technology, in the time it took Thomas Jefferson to send that particular piece of wisdom to Isaac McPherson, you could deliver the same quote to millions of people!)
So invest in the world. If you have knowledge, share it. If you can encourage someone, do so. If someone else can light their taper at yours, be honored – for you illuminate the world.