It was 1974; I was Assistant Principal Cello in the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra in Fort Wayne, Indiana--where it gets plenty cold in the winter.

Every Friday, I would walk to the bank nearby (no car), cash my paycheck, walk home, and stash away the money in my tiny apartment. (I was saving, and I didn't trust banks.) I don't remember how much I earned in those days. Not much, but I spent even less. That fall I bought a gorgeous new cello, paid cash. (I mean cash: we're talking a few grand in rolled-up twenties, much to the bug-eyed shock of the violin-maker as I took delivery of the instrument.) Even so, by deep winter I'd socked away some change.

Then I heard about my neighbors.

I want to say their names were David and Lisa, though that's probably not right. I remember she was pretty and too thin. They both looked young enough to be hopeful, broke enough to know hopelessness. We never had a conversation, that I recall. Somehow, I heard that "David" had lost his job, they couldn't make rent, and would have to vacate the next day.

That night, I silently slipped over to their building and slid an envelope into their mailbox. It contained a thick wad of rolled-up twenties with a note saying only that this was from a neighbor who wished them well.

They least as long as I did, which was till summer. They never knew where their rent that month came from.

I told no one. I knew instinctively, intuitively, that I couldn't. Why not? Had no idea--I just couldn't. For the next 30 years, I maintained so strong a sense of privacy over the event that my own memory soon lost their names and other particulars of their history, retaining only the faint outline you've just read.

Now I think I know why. Primitive tribes the world over believe that if you take a photograph of another, you have power over that person. If David and Lisa had known who I was, would that have given me power over them? If so, I didn't want it.

Now I realize, there are two ways to give. One is to give something of value to others (money, knowledge, comfort, perspective, time, attention, care...), but to retain--or even, by the giving, to increase--your power over them. You get to look generous, but still have the upper hand.

The other way is to give something of value away--just give it away, holding onto nothing. To give away the power, too.

Which is more common? And which, the more satisfying?

is Editor in Chief of Networking Times.