Some of us find it easier to give than receive. Since receiving really is a critical part of our first experience (none of us would have survived infancy unless we’d received some care) I’m curious about why this can be such a challenge for many of us.There’s the obvious culprit: a dominator culture that values power-over tends to see the person who is giving as stronger and, by inference, the one who is receiving as weaker. The implication is that if you have something (time, energy, money, advice, insight, support, compassion etc.) to give, you must be doing something right, and if you need something you cannot provide for yourself, you must be doing something wrong. In part, this goes along with the cultural premium that is placed on independence- a fallacy if there ever was one in an inter-dependent world.
I recently heard a news story about a ninety year old woman who committed suicide because she knew that sometime in the next few years she would not be able to live independently. Now, this is the kind of decision re:quality of life I want to leave up to individuals. Still, I could not help but wonder if the collective value we put on so-called independence might not make it difficult for those of us living in affluent parts of the world to see receiving assistance as we age not only as loss, but also as a way to learn something together. I have gone through periods when illness has necessitated relying heavily on friends and family for care. My delusion of self-sufficiency was shattered, and nothing has softened my heart more to myself and others than needing and receiving help.
Of course receiving, depending on the situation, can sometimes feel unsafe. As discussed in last week’s blog, “Giving Without Resentment,” giving is sometimes (consciously or not) done in a bid to gain power over another or as a way to make a bargain- goods or consideration for later unspecified favours. If these deals are vague and unspoken we can end up feeling we owe another, unsure of what exactly is expected.
Honestly, if we stay conscious about and aren’t drawn into obligations we never agreed to, the other will stop trying to create unspoken bargains simply because it’s not working for them.
But what if someone wants to give us something we don’t need or want? Well, the first option is to simply say, “No, thank you,” particularly if what is offered is going to create any suffering (Eg.- a visit, even with someone we love, can be draining when we are ill.) We can receive and appreciate the caring intent but let the other know this is not something we can or want to receive right now. Of course, if we know what we need, the next step is to ask for it- post-graduate work for many of us leery of receiving.
We cannot help but be both givers and receivers every day. And the world we co-create is largely shaped and coloured by how we are with ourselves and each other in our giving and receiving. Both can create knots of obligation and resentment or cultivate open-hearted joy and gratitude.Today, may we take in with gratitude and without fear that which we choose to receive, and may we give without resentment that which we can offered in a truly sustainable way.