In my continuing effort to understand kindness better I read Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd C. Douglas this last week. The premise is that there are easily available techniques for getting what you need and want by giving secret gifts to people in need. The story’s setting is a time warp back to the lives of some upper-class Americans of the 1920s. There were already many modern conveniences available to these rich people, only they were slower than modern conveniences available now even to poor people. For example, in the novel, trans-Atlantic trips are done on ships, but quick trips from Paris to Rome and around Europe are done in Ford Tri-motors airplanes. The book is about a wealthy young man who devotes these pre-depression years to medical school training for a specialty in brain surgery. There are telephones and telegraphs which work well enough for them but are slow compared to our internet. There are cars too, but poor roads, and people are taking trains for typical trips across the US or Europe.

This book is founded upon a secret encoded book which has short passages dribbled throughout the book, about the incredible power of secret gifts. I read the book carefully watching for the details of this method, but the author intends to make the method obscure and difficult to understand, intentionally making the reader dig for understanding. That is annoying, because he claims the method is easily applied by everyone, and yet he keeps it obscure. He claims the whole method is based on a single page in the Bible, but gives only vague clues as to what that page might be. It does concern gifts given in secret. He forces the pre-internet reader to read the whole bible, but nowadays it is easy to search bible secret gifts – and come up with Proverbs 21:14 (A gift in secret pacifieth anger: and a reward in the bosom strong wrath.) and Matthew 6:4-6 (That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.)

The Magnificent Obsession is an extended exploration of secret giving. Giving not only with a conditional secret bond between the recipient of the gift and the giver, but also by a second method, of secret gifts given by the giver without the knowledge of the recipients. The premise is that these techniques require the giver to never accept any repayment, and never be known as the giver, because that would somehow destroy his personal secret reward. On page 157 there exists the longest lecture:

“It must be borne in mind, at the outset, that no amount of altruistic endeavor — no matter how costly — can possibly benefit the donor, if he has in any manner neglected the natural and normal obligations to which he is expected to be sensitive. Not only must he be just before attempting to be generous; he must figure this particular investment of himself as a higher altruism, quite other than mere generosity.

“Every conceivable responsibility must have had full attention before one goes in search of opportunity to perform secret services to be used for the express purpose of expanding one’s personality that it may become receptive of that inexplicable energy which guarantees personal power.”

Then on page 186-7, “He found himself entering more and more confidently into the mood of the man who had proposed these principles of what he called a more abundant life, particularly struck by its poise and audacity.”

This philosophy is strange, but it has a problem for the common man, because he has neither the economic resources nor the mental stamina to follow this book’s suggestions. Furthermore, the method is based on a limited number of gifts being given. One gift mentioned was enough money for a nurse to take a six-month vacation in Switzerland and that would amount to at least a year’s pay for her. Very few people could give such a gift even if they wanted to very much.

Separate from this book, I would suggest that the secrecy of a gift can also be maintained by the tininess of the gift. If the gift is so small the recipient doesn’t even recognize it as an intentional gift, then the gift is a secret one. These tiny gifts can be given many times per day, and they give the recipient a pleasure, and help him on his life’s journey, but they give the donor a pleasure and a worthwhile habit to his own well-being and a path to more personal productivity, happiness and contentment.

Few humans can ever practice the Magnificent Obsession but everyone can give tiny gifts.