Thursday, May 28, 2015

Giving and Receiving

Most of us like to think of ourselves as good people who do good things for those who are less fortunate. However, the truth of the matter is that few people actually walk the talk. We mean well, but when it comes right down to it, we just can’t be bothered with the problems of others. If you’ve ever needed help but were made to feel like a burden because of it (intentionally or not), or if you’ve been put off by those well-meaning folks who don’t follow through with their offers to help, you know what I mean. It’s frustrating. It’s also important to understand that being grateful for help can be just as taxing as helping people. Here’s why:

Cheerful Giving vs. Obligatory Giving

It feels good to help someone and that giving energy increases the positive vibrations all around. Receiving feels good as well. It’s a relief. That energy is also positive and radiates back to the person who gave the help, which then raises the surrounding vibrations again. It leads to gratitude and appreciation, making both the giver and the receiver feel blessed.

Sometimes, however, giving doesn’t feel good because it’s a drain on your emotions, your space, your resources, or whatever else you feel like you’re giving up in order to help someone. That energy is negative and dark and ugly. Its tendrils wrap around everything in its path. It spreads like wildfire and devours hope and light from everything in its path. Anyone on the receiving end of this kind of “assistance” feels its sting at every turn. Relief then becomes an overwhelming sense of burden and guilt. Gratitude turns rancid, resulting in a withered spirit and a reluctance to ever seek help again, even when it’s desperately needed.

What’s the difference between these two scenarios?

The first one is an example of a cheerful giver, someone who sincerely wants to help without a grudging heart. This person genuinely enjoys how it feels to make a difference in someone’s life. I don’t normally quote from the bible, but I will today because I remember this passage so well from one of my intense studies years ago. “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). That’s a good thing, right? Why would anyone offer help when they don’t want to give it?

Perhaps the answer to that lies in the second scenario, where the person helps not because they want to, but because they feel like they have to. Any decision to help that’s made out of a sense of obligation or guilt or coercion can result only in contempt for the receiver, which increases over time and sours that relationship. The receiver then feels horrible because they’ve robbed the giver of their comfort, finances, food, or time, etc. – leaving the receiver to feel angry, resentful, trapped, unworthy, dependent, powerless, hopeless, and vulnerable.

Which example would you rather experience, whether you’re giving or receiving: satisfaction and gratitude, or resentment and bitterness?

The latter definitely does not appeal to me. Say anything critical about someone who’s given you a helping hand and you’re immediately branded an ungrateful mooch, an unappreciative deadbeat, an thankless bitch, or… well, you get the picture. It’s not pretty. And it’s not acceptable to resent the giver, right?

How Did It Happen?

The receiver’s story is often misunderstood. Unless he or she intentionally sets out to take advantage of the giver, the receiver will have a good idea just how much is being sacrificed or how much of a hardship is caused for the giver from being helped. That’s usually why many people who ask for help do so only after waiting until they have no other choice.

You might be thinking, “Yeah, but the receiver needs to understand how the giver feels, too.”

Trust me, they do.

For example, in my own experience, every bit of help anyone’s ever given me has been greatly appreciated. I’m fortunate to have had people in my life who were willing to go the extra mile for me; I know they didn’t have to. And I certainly have never felt entitled to their help, nor have I ever expected anyone to just drop everything to lend me a hand. In fact, the exact opposite is true – I feel like I have no right to ask for it, that I’m a burden, and my “neediness” is an intrusion on their lives. This makes it difficult to ask for help, even when I need it most, because I don’t like having to be grateful for yet one more thing that someone else "had" to do for me.

We find ourselves in situations that are the direct result of our own actions and our own decisions. That’s not to say that outside events don’t influence our lives. Clearly things like losing a job, mourning the death of a friend or family member, or suffering through a serious illness can have a major impact in how things play out.

How we respond to misfortune says a lot about our character. How others respond to our misfortune says a lot about theirs.

If you don’t have certain resources, you don’t have the luxury of doing things on a whim. Careful planning becomes involved for even the most mundane of tasks, like a trip to the grocery store, unless you live within walking distance or can take public transportation. How you’re going to get someplace becomes a major source of angst if you have to rely on others. If you don’t own a car, the lack of safe and affordable transportation can be an especially troublesome issue during bad weather or after dark, which makes having any kind of a social life outside of work fairly limited.

Sometimes, receiving an “offer” of assistance can be more frustrating than not finding any help whatsoever. For instance, someone offers help but keeps you waiting and wondering when things are going to fall into place, or plans constantly change to the point that they’re no longer plans but merely a hypothetical situation: one day, maybe, if I can pull it off, if I have time, if you can’t find someone else, etc. The giver may ask you to do something for them first or they may help you only if you respond in a certain way. Assistance then comes with conditions if it comes at all.

Ah, the strings… those wonderful conditions that often accompany offers of help.

That’s where the guilt comes in. Often people who offer help know that you probably can’t ever repay them, so they seek compensation by other means – whether or not they’re consciously aware of it. They guilt you into feeling like you owe them the world for their kindness and generosity. They own you. You have to do whatever they want or act however they’d like you to in return for the hardship that helping you out has heaped upon them. They become the martyr and you collapse into a cowering hostage to their emotional blackmail, shrinking down inside yourself out of fear that you’re asking too much.

What does a person in need really look like?

When we picture the “needy,” we usually assume one of two things. The first image we conjure might be of a person who lives in poverty or is homeless, doesn’t have enough food, wears old clothing, doesn’t bathe regularly, and begs for handouts on the street. Maybe this person is a single parent or has several children or is unemployed or is a minority. The second is of a con artist out to get something for nothing, lazy and manipulative, ready to spread his latest sob story. This person might not look like he needs anything, but he’s a smooth talker and could pass for a traveling snake oil salesman. The truth is that most people in need fall somewhere in between those two scenarios.

In today’s society where the rich keep getting richer, the middle class is all but disappearing. More and more people fall into the poverty level every day. Salaries don’t keep up with the cost of living increases. Too many people live from paycheck to paycheck with little to no opportunity to save for the future, let alone for any potential financial crisis. Some people who have college degrees and decent jobs don’t have a home to go to at the end of the day. They may sleep in their cars if they have one, or if they’re lucky they can stay with family or friends, or they might have to stay at homeless shelters. They may be just starting out and don’t have enough education or experience to have a job that pays enough to cover all their living expenses.

Being homeless doesn’t always equate to dirty and tattered. Being homeless does, however, conjure images for most people of someone who can’t hold a job, who mismanaged their finances, gambled away their earnings at the race track, or squandered their saving on some hair-brained get-rich-quick scheme – a lazy spendthrift who couldn’t hold onto a dime if you glued it to their hand.

In reality, it may be that the person ended up in their situation because of enormous medical bills or they were unemployed for a long time or they had to give up their own comforts to care for an elderly relative. Maybe someone stole their identity and ruined their credit and cost them a small fortune in legal fees.

Assumptions are usually wrong and it’s not our place to judge how someone ended up in need of help. Financial hardship is difficult enough, but it’s often accompanied by a more painful blow to the ego and pride. The most hurtful thing anyone can do for someone on the receiving end of assistance is to make them feel like less of a person for needing help.

What Can Be Done?

It doesn’t take much these days to bring someone to financial ruin. So many systems in our society are broken. The wealthy few use that to their advantage, further oppressing the less fortunate and making it difficult or impossible for them to break free of impoverishment. Even those most determined to free themselves from the shackles of poverty can’t always do it alone. Human beings are social creatures and were not designed to be able to do everything for themselves; we must rely on others to make the community function properly. Everyone plays a part.

There are many fine organizations that help people in need. Maybe you can get involved through one of them. Maybe you know someone who’s having a hard time. Before you make any offers, however, first ask yourself why you want to provide any kind of assistance. 

Are you offering help because you see a need, have the means to fulfill it, and genuinely want to do something to help another human being make it through a difficult time?

Do you seek thanks and gratitude, favors in return for your good deed, or repayment for your assistance? How will you react if you don’t get what you want or expect?

Will you keep a mental record (or a physical tally) of everything the receiver will owe you in the future as a result of helping them now? How will you feel if you’re never compensated with anything more than a heartfelt thanks? Will you feel cheated, used, or disrespected? If so, you’re probably not helping for the right reasons.

If you reluctantly help someone out of obligation, how will you handle your feelings about it? Will you make the receiver feel worse for seeking your help or will you look for other solutions that might be more beneficial for both of you?

Perhaps you’ve received help and you can’t repay the person who gave it. How does that make you feel? Are you blessed or burdened? Are you grateful or resentful? How does that influence your situation? Will you pay it forward for others later or will you become a miser, hoarding for the next hardship should it arise?

The point is that bad things happen and usually without warning – and when bad times hit, they can hit hard. No one wants to be destitute or in need of help. Most people would rather thrive and prosper. Focusing on how to meet the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter consumes a great deal of energy. Operating in survival mode zaps creativity, growth, and human potential.

If more people had the opportunity to focus their energy on thriving rather than surviving, imagine what a wonderful world we could all create together.


“The universe operates through dynamic exchange . . . giving and receiving are different aspects of the flow of energy in the universe. And in our willingness to give that which we seek, we keep the abundance of the universe circulating in our lives.” ~ Deepak Chopra


Image credits:

“Giving to the needy” from the internet
Used with permission via creative commons

“Migrant Mother” in Nipomo, California
Photo by Dorothea Lange, 1936

“Homeless Man” from Pixabay
Used with permission via creative commons

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