Friday, July 17, 2009

David Dunn - Try Giving Yourself Away

I think there must be a universal impulse in man to collect things, and often strange things (I just read a news article about a Belgian who opened up a museum to display his collection of the underwear of famous people.) I have been bitten by the collector bug many times throughout my life, at different times collecting baseball cards, postage stamps, coins and banknotes, rare books, minerals, and I anticipate soon--insects. (I used to think my collecting habits were out of control until I discovered that my brother harbors an irrepressible urge to collect road signs.)

When I was twelve my parents noted my penchant for hording the exotic, and in an effort to promote collecting activities that didn't make a disaster of my room they gave me a book called Try Giving Yourself Away. It catalogs the rather unique collection of a man named David Dunn, who made a hobby of doing small, usually secret acts of kindness. I read the book with delight, as it brought a new, hoard-able thing into my life.

Mr. Dunn relates with pleasure the little, every-day opportunities he discovers to make people around him happy: he'll compliment someone he sees on the street, or give someone a ride home in his car; once he bought some hungry children bags of popcorn from a street vendor; he wrote a letter to his local postmaster thanking him for going out of his way to get a package delivered to him. Most of the things he did were easy and inexpensive, or free, and I'm sure he derived at least as much satisfaction from them as I did from any of my baseball cards.

I won't jump on a soapbox and say that I immediately set out to build a collection of charitable memories, but every once in awhile I'll remember the book and try to do some small thing for someone: I'll let someone with a gallon of milk ahead of me in the supermarket line, or listen attentively as a friend describes in detail something I'm not necessarily interested in. I won't get on a soapbox and claim that this happens constantly, or even that it's a natural impulse, but every once in awhile the book comes to mind and I'll usually see someone in my immediate surroundings who presents an opportunity to add to my uncatalogued collection.

I was hunting around online and just found a free digital version of the book. It was written in the 1940's, so it's in the public domain now. As a little gift to you, here is the link:

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