In complement to my Scrooge post, in which I hopefully expressed my feelings about the nature of true giving, and it not being about packages and such, well, it occurred to me that there is another side of this, too. Receiving.
Most of us simply do not know how to receive. Oh, yes, when it comes to packages we learn early, I’m not talking about that, but since it’s that time of year, let me get it out of the way before I move on to the point of this post.
As kids, we love getting presents, and as adults too. In my previous post I mentioned a point in my childhood where getting gifts became stressful because I didn’t know what to say if I didn’t actually like something. And it made giving difficult because I didn’t want others to feel that awkwardness I felt when wondering what to say. Remember, I would learn to say things like “That’s nice of you” instead of “I love it” because I hated pretense of any sort. Well, the thing is, eventually it didn’t have to be pretense. I learned as I grew up, that I could feel the loving intent in the gifts even if it was something silly or useless. In other words, I learned to receive gifts in appreciation of the gesture. It truly is “the thought that counts”. I eventually did “get it”. The words took on meaning within me.
But I stand by what I said in the previous post – Xmas is still too much about packages under a tree, and not enough about real giving. I wonder why that is? Maybe it’s because we, as a society, are still at that stage of receiving, where the only thing we know how to appreciate are tangible gifts.
Lets get off the topic of packages. On to the real point of this post – receiving.
How many of us really know how to receive? When someone complements you or something you’ve done, how does it feel? And how do you react? Do you shrug it off, or do you give them the benefit of meaning it? Do you appreciate the complement, or do you somehow twist it around with thinking they are not sincere, or have a hidden agenda? If someone does something nice for you, do you think they are just looking for something in return?
I know that most of my childhood problems with giving came from not knowing how to receive. As a young woman I was desperate for people to understand how much I wanted to give of myself, of my heart, my soul, yet I felt that no one could see it. Perhaps again, because I didn’t know how to receive those same things?
How many of us recognize (and gratefully accept) a helping hand when it is offered? How easy or hard is it for you to accept help from someone, without feeling you then owe them something? How often do you openly accept the offering a service, and give that person the benefit of appreciating that they are doing it out of caring, not out of obligation or duty? Can you receive as easily as you give? Can you both give and receive without keeping score?
Keeping score – that seems to be a big one. I hear people talking about not wanting charity or needing to balance out what they receive in some kind of reciprocal fashion, but for me that is simply a rejection of the gift itself. These are people who don’t know how to receive. And because they don’t know how to receive, they also don’t know how to give. Giving and receiving are not about keeping score.
Giving, at its purest, should not expect a return on the investment. (whether the investment be time or money or emotional effort or whatever) Giving is not about the gift, but about the act of giving itself, the pleasure we have of helping others, or giving of our time and hearts. I think a lot of people realize this – but how many learn to receive in that same way – without feeling a need to give something back to the giver? If a gift is offered in the true nature of giving, then nothing is expected in return, it is the joy of offering that is the whole point of the giving.
Learning to appreciate. Allowing others to help us when we need it. Accepting that they are doing it out of goodness and caring, and that they, too receive a benefit from the gesture by the sheer joy they have in offering. These are all things we need to learn as we grow.
I love the idea of “paying it forward.” That is the concept where, if someone does something nice for you, or helps you in some way, you don’t have to return the favor to them, you simply “pay it forward” and help someone else, whether it be soon or years from the time. That is so much closer to true receiving in the sense that it allows people to receive without feeling they owe a return favor. But it’s still not quite there. It’s wonderful, and should be encouraged, but it still bases itself on a concept of debt. A debt to be paid forward, yes, and in that sense, so much more true to what giving should be. But a debt nonetheless.
Why can’t we simply learn to accept kindness and loving gestures and complements and helping hands for what they are? Wouldn’t it be better to simply appreciate the loving kindness behind it, to realize that the person offering is getting joy out of offering? In learning to accept such gifts of the heart, we also learn about giving. And in learning about giving, it will be natural to want to help others, not in return for what help we received at a given moment, but because we know it’s joyful to help others, it makes us feel good.
True giving is receiving, in that it brings the giver joy. But lets not forget the other side of that. True receiving, appreciation of what is given, is a gift to the giver, because it recognizes their intent, and reinforces their joy.
In this season of packages, let your giving and receiving reflect this. And then carry it on into your everyday life, applying it to all gifts of all nature. Learn to appreciate, and accept that giving and receiving are simply two sides of one thing: loving human kindness.
Happy Holidays to All.