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Giving vs. Receiving

By Dr. Paul Dunion

“Don’t you ever think of others?”

“Make sure you share!”         

 “That’s you being selfish again.”

These are just a few of the many appeals to giving that so many of us hear along the way. We are encouraged to be exemplary givers, with giving being elevated to heavenly status. The inevitable consequence is that the act of receiving falls considerably short of giving’s auspicious position in our lives. It almost seems ludicrous to suggest that we can become highly effective receivers without jeopardizing the exalted rank of giving. Is it possible that we as well as others can benefit from strengthening our capacities to receive? This is only one of many curiosities about receiving worth exploring.

What happens when we aggrandize giving while diminishing the act of receiving, with no consideration of receiving as a developed competency? It may be important to point out that giving and receiving are the basic energies, the glue of all social transactions. We may be offering a simple acknowledgement or greeting for spending a week at a sick friend or relative’s bedside. Giving and receiving make encountering others possible.

When we minimize the role of receiving, it becomes easy to be excessively attached to giving. Giving becomes our interpersonal mandate in our significant relationships as well as in our more cordial, social interactions. When giving carries an inordinate amount of emotional weight, we can easily attribute illusionary benefits to being a great giver. We may even continue to pursue giving although we fail to reap the alleged rewards. The first promised gift of being a great giver is that it is supposed to make us good people. However, it is only too easy to slip into an endless array of offerings to others as we tirelessly attempt to substantiate our self-worth.

The second alleged benefit is that because giving makes good people, we are then also lovable. Giving is presumably empowered to make us deserving of love. Of course, those who are recipients of our offerings are by no means destined to reciprocate or confirm that we are lovable.

The third expectation is that giving will produce some control over our social interactions. Since what is given does often initiate social intercourse, giving can produce the anticipation that the giver is in control of what transpires. However, givers often find themselves feeling out of control either because of the receiver’s lack of cooperation or because of the burden of responsibility that typically accommodates excessive giving. The hopes of the devoted giver may wither, as the advances predicted seem unattainable.

The Losses Created by Excessive Giving

In actuality, there may be a number of losses engendered when we focus on excessive giving and ignore our ability to receive: