Posted on December 18, 2011 by Rachel French
I’ll just come right out and say it: giving is easy. My family celebrates Christmas, and birthdays, and anniversaries in the same way many of us do—by giving each other presents. I’ve got four sisters, and after decades of knowing these women, sharing clothes and make-up, watching them in their hobbies and jobs and with their own families, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what they like, so picking out gifts isn’t very difficult. We all tend to shop at the same places, and we all appreciate what twenty dollars can buy at our favorite stores, so deciding how much to spend is almost automatic. And luckily, I like my sisters, so seeing them open a gift and show genuine delight is—well, a delight. See? Giving is easy!
Understanding Our Motivation in Giving
It’s actually getting a bit funny with the gift-giving these days. My sisters and I have often exchanged identical gift cards on the holidays, for the same amounts, for the same stores. Isn’t that silly? The thought was there, I suppose, and we all played it safe. Everybody is happy, if not a bit amused.
Like with my sisters and our gift cards, giving can sometimes be so automatic that neither the giver nor the receiver benefits much or feels too terribly warm and fuzzy. The truth is that many of us give what is easy to give. We probably all know people who write fat checks to the local soup kitchen, but would never step up to the stove. Or folks who spend their time down at the animal shelter, but would never give money. Either way, givers are to be admired and not judged. But have we looked at our own giving habits to see where our motivations are?
Do we give money because that is what is needed most, or because it is the easiest thing for us to part with? Are we really too busy to give our time, or does helping in person make us uncomfortable? If we are giving freely of our time, is it because that is what is desperately needed, or is it that we’re stingy with our hard-earned money, or maybe getting ego strokes by showing up face-to-face?
If we’re honest with ourselves, many of us give when and where and how it feels the best for us. When giving is easy and convenient and comfortable—sign us up! But if we have to step outside our comfort zone, or work alongside people we don’t know or like very much, or give up a luxury to make that donation, we might completely opt out.
I’m guilty. I admit it. Growing up, I participated in a lot of service projects through my church youth group. I would have denied it vehemently at the time, but I can admit now that I was most likely to participate if all the charity and social stars were in alignment:
- my friends were going,
- a boy I liked was going,
- there was nothing better going on,
- I was interested in the activity, and/or
- I wouldn’t have to get my hands or my clothes too dirty.
Yes, I can look back at the teenage version of myself, and think, “Tsk-tsk, you selfish young lady!” Ah, with age has come such wisdom!
But wait a minute. Have I matured and ripened into a selfless, altruistic giver-of-all-things? Am I now giving what is needed most, or am I still giving what is easiest to part with? I can answer this quickly, albeit sheepishly, for myself. The answer isn’t pretty.
All giving is good, of course. But I am convinced that when when we give where it is needed most, and when we sacrifice something in the process, everyone benefits a little more.
It is in this particular spirit of giving that I am giving up a piece of my pride and making a confession of sorts. There are a few things I really need to give right now that are uncomfortable, and while they are small things, they are the things that are needed most, and it will require some genuine effort for me to give them. It’s a bit embarrassing to lay oneself out like this, but it’s worth it if doing so gets us all thinking about the really important gifts needed this season, and all seasons.
1. Give It a Rest, Already
What is “it” that needs a rest? Our nagging, harping, criticism of something that someone else is doing—or not doing. Maybe your spouse eats too much, or your kid’s room is always messy, or your friend won’t stop complaining about a toxic job or relationship. We’ve tried nagging. Has it worked? Obviously not, so this season, let’s give the criticism a rest and give our loved ones a reprieve from our judgments and tongue-lashings.
2. Give the Benefit of the Doubt
People say things the wrong way all the time, but we don’t need to clobber them for it. We don’t need to be so easily offended. We don’t need to judge all the time. What good does it do us anyway? Before we jump into either the defensive or offensive modes, we can stop ourselves and make sure that we are assuming good intent. Even though it might seem like someone wants to take advantage of us, or make us feel bad, or push their own agenda, we might be wrong. Let’s try giving people the benefit of the doubt upfront, and we might find out there are more people on our side than we thought.
3. Give Just a Moment
Lots of people need someone to listen to them, even if it’s just for a moment. We’re always getting cornered at holiday parties, or on our way out of the office, or by someone whose story we’ve heard a thousand times. Instead of putting so much effort into giving hints that we don’t care (or pretending like we do care but don’t have time right now), maybe we can just be still, and listen. We don’t need to always be planning an exit strategy. Let’s just listen for a little longer than we normally would and see what happens.
4. Give ’Em a Break!
When someone screws up — I mean really screws up — we might feel justified in punishing them forever. But being angry doesn’t undo the hurt…it fuels it. So you have all the evidence on your side, and you are the innocent victim? Fine. But if someone wants our forgiveness, we can always work a little harder to find a way to give it to them. Even if they don’t want our forgiveness, and we’re sure they don’t deserve it anyway, our emotional baggage is lightened by offloading negative feelings. Maybe we don’t even have to tell the offender; it might be enough just to decide we’re going to abandon the grudge we’ve grown so attached to. And wouldn’t it be tragic if we wasted a bunch of energy being sad or mad over something the other person doesn’t even realize they did? It would be equally tragic if the person wanted to apologize but they’re too afraid to approach us. What if they’ve changed, but they’re sure we won’t believe them? Someone has forgiven us when we probably didn’t deserve it, so let’s consider giving a break to someone else and paying that forgiveness forward. (This one is big. This one is hard. But it’s got big payoff, too. And frankly, this one is a bigger gift to ourselves than it is to the other person.)
These are toughies for me, and maybe they are for you, too. Grand gestures can be fun and fulfilling, and they look good on paper, and they can make us feel pretty darn good about ourselves, thank you very much. It’s the little things that add up though, and for some of us, they’re the harder things to give. We’re the sum of all our actions, after all, not just the big actions. And we’re the sum of all our gifts, so we need to give what matters most.
What would you add to this list? I have more ideas, but I have to run out and buy a bunch of gift cards, so I figured I would leave the rest for you to do. Isn’t that generous? You’re welcome!