Archive for December, 2011

on giving and receiving
December 16, 2011

This giving and receiving time of year, it would seem to me, brings out the best and worst in us. Despite my most honourable thoughts and good intentions, I’m afraid the truth, as painful as it may be, is that people are either  givers or  receivers and when the two meet in one major holiday season, life gets messy.

If you are a giver, something, somewhere, along the line, taught you that giving comes from a place where receiving does not live. You know who you are. You’re the first to offer a kind word or birthday card, a special gift for no reason, a call on a lonely day or an anonymous contribution. But when the tables are turned, you resist. No gifts please. You’d cross the street to avoid a compliment. Even coupons and free giveaways are akin to a trip to the dentist. And don’t get me started on all-you-can-eat buffets. We’re not going there. I’ll pay for what I eat, thank you. I guess you know who I think I am in this scenario.

Why are givers like this? Does it come from a place of self worth? A place where your worth cannot be bought or exchanged for a free thing-ma-bob or doo-hickey or an extra helping of chicken chow mein. Does it come from a place of skepticism? Where trust cannot be exchanged for a compliment or gift. Does it come from a place of self-reliance? Where you don’t need a compliment or a free meal to justify your behaviour? Where does it come from? I happen to think it’s a learned behaviour or genetic programming of some kind. There must be some explanation. If you know what it is, please enlighten me. I will say givers are annoying. You can’t take them out for coffee without the promise of a pay back. You can’t invite them for dinner without receiving a bottle of something that you really didn’t need to receive. You can’t thank them enough. It’s annoying as hell. They’re always trying to one-up-you. Can’t a person just live with a “hey – thanks. mighty nice of you.”?

If you are a receiver, receiving is so overwhelmingly important, you simply cannot help yourself but keep score on the giant tally sheet that makes up  the favour bank  where friends and families exchange favours and good turns simply because friends and families exchange favours, and good turns. And don’t kid yourself for a moment. There’s powerful progress and change (double-entendre intended) in that model. It’s a very large part of the informal you-scratch-my back-I’ll-stratch-yours economy. Receivers are also annoying as hell if you don’t mind my saying so. They only do something to get something back. They keep track and bank it for a rainy day. They’ll support your cause if they get something for it. Free burnt toast – doesn’t matter. Just something for their trouble even if it’s something they don’t need. A button. A ribbon. An anything. Lame.

So givers and receivers have a problem to solve in my view. And yet, between them they have great challenges to meet and objectives to accomplish. We need to find a way to get what needs doing done.

And I’m not saying for a minute that one is better than the other (we’ll okay, maybe I am). But, regardless, we need both the receivers who participate so generously one the one hand and the givers who donate so generously on the other hand to get the job done at this time of year  – where givers and receivers mix and mingle so frequently – to find the balance that Christmas demands of us all.

People who need the goodwill of both the givers and the receivers seem to have to, at least during the holidays, justify their need for help. And this irritates me. Apparently “applications” for food hampers are up considerably this year. Why would people in need have to add to their stress by having to “apply” for a food hamper with all the dreaded details of their personal financial hardship. I find this sad. A testament to our over-corporatized world of information and analysis. If you need something and you ask for it, I should respect your request and do what I can to help. This burden of proof is burden indeed.

Why I would pen (or type) words to untangle my moral dilemma when I could just as easily be doing my thing, enjoying the company of those I love (my husband and children) in our favourite place (by our Christmas tree), watching our favourite Christmas films (Charlie Brown, White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life) and eating, let’s face it, whatever and as much as I wanted? Because I have a story to tell. And the need to tell it trumps even my favourite people, places and pastimes.

Many years ago before I was born,  in a place far far away from here, a leader in a community whose position of power and influence allowed him to compare what needs were being exceeded and what needs weren’t being met used his power and influence to help people, givers and receivers alike, to share what they had with those who needed. No photo ops. No press releases. No applications. No tax receipts. No plaques on the wall. Just because it needed doing without thank you cards or tearful public moments of gratitude. It just was what it was.

Ironically, the act of that one person (a priest) in that one town (my mom’s childhood village) was enough, over the decades to affect change yet today. When my mom told me that the priest would just inform certain parishoners that they would be expected to share what extra they had with those that didn’t have enough extra, they just did it. End of story.

And this happened in other parishes and in other villages with other families. My grandmother on my Dad’s side used to keep extra mittens for the kids in the neighbourhood who didn’t have any. Not because it made her feel good or she got a tax receipt but because the kids needed mittens and they didn’t have any. End of story.

So please think about where you give and why you give. And if it doesn’t add up, just shut up and do it, whatever it happens to be – food for Second Harvest (where the line ups are longer than those at any other bank) or the Family Resource Centre (where the tags on the Family Christmas tree speak to the number of parents who simply cannot afford to buy their children Christmas gifts). Or the Salvation Army hampers that need filling, applications aside.

Abundance at the cost of poverty is not abundance. It is greed. And the sooner we realize that. The better off we’ll all be. So please don’t just have a merry Christmas, give one too.