There’s a lot of talk about the value and need to be giving at this time of year. We have slogans like “It’s better (or ‘more blessed’ some say) to give than receive” that in our materialistic society seems a challenge. One charity boasts they are “Doing the most good.” Or we worry about the price of gifts that are out of our range.
Is giving supposed to be a competition? If so, what’s the prize? Or the measure?
- The Calculated Giver.
My sisters and I were always amused that our mother kept a Christmas Card list from
year to year. If someone gave her a card, the sender went on the list and Mother would send one. If they didn’t send one the next year, they came off the list.
On the flip side, I knew a woman who did not give any gifts, fearful they would not measure up to some imagined standard.
This practice is related to business exchange or other instrumental tokens: part of greasing the wheel of social interaction. Perhaps pleasant but unrelated to relationships or joy.
- The Unrivaled Giver
Higher stakes version of The Calculated Giver is the Unrivaled Giver. This giver does not receive. We all know those who rush to other’s aid but consider it a point of honor never to need any help from others. They do not seem to understand that this may actually be pride: only others are expected to graciously receive. We might hear him praised, “He never asks for anything” not realizing this is not true relationship. Instead he gets to be better than those who need, and never outdone.
It’s demoralizing receiving from those who feel superior. Family systems dynamics describes one member whom the rest of the family helps, but whom they look down on. They become uncomfortable if that person stops needing their help. The family actually requires them to be more limited in order to feel good about themselves. Resentment, not joy, is created here.
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be”. It’s better to share only what you comfortably can. Loans introduce the idea of obligation, the enemy of joy of relationships, parent to child or sibling to sibling, friend to friend. Codependency and enabling are not the kind of giving that create joy. A Calculated Giver may use money to bind others to him. We may have even thought material gifts are substitutes for relationships, at least quicker and more convenient.
- The Compelled Giver
Earning relationships with people-pleasing through gifts can emerge from anxiety or guilt or it may be a plea to prove the giver is worthy of relationship. Perhaps also done out of pride or duty, concern for image, or other fear, the gifts from this status rarely create joy.
Gifts may be based on what the presenter thinks the receiver should have, rather than what would please the person. Sadly these givers focus on themselves when contributing – their giving is almost compulsive, a terminal giving disease. They may give out of their need, not their surplus, a resented duty, certainly not joyful. Offering a material gift is part of relationship, not the reason for it. These, like the next type of giver, may attract only takers into their lives.
- The Non-Reciprocated Giver
Like the compulsive giver, the Non-Reciprocated Giver doesn’t seem to notice that this is a limited way to relate. Others may not think this individual has any needs. As a result, this giver still does not feel valued, considered, or worthy. The connection that is the core of giving never develops.
But we often praise this type of largese, not realizing it sidesteps real giving. We are told to give freely, not expecting in return, lest we may become the Calculated Giver. It is true that the one we benefit may not be the one who gives back, but to never experience reciprocal support is joyless.
So where does the joy in giving come from?
It is part of a larger context of relationship; it’s in the connection with others. We see this in children’s free and open hearts as they pick the flower for us, draw a picture, or run to us with a hug.
The delight in giving is in sharing the creation of joy- a burden lifted, an appreciation expressed, a life cherished.
The fabled gifts of the Magi did this: myrhh is an antiseptic for healing, frankincense decreases pain and stress, and gold, well, it can get someone across the border.
My Mom would ask for what she wanted and never be pleased when she got it. This diminished our joy because it diminished the relationship. The satisfaction of giving does not correlate with the material gift.
This is why Christmas belongs to children and why giving is to be cheerful. No bargaining, no trading: just openness to new life and light. Delight in receiving and sharing, belief in surprising good, trust in love, the warmth of being together is their gift to us, reminding us we can grant this too. You are the best gift. Just Open Yourself.
May you share a joyful Christmas.