The flip side of getting | The Optimist Daily
Today’s Solutions: July 12, 2024

Giving is what you do when you realize just how much you’re taking.
Rabbi Rami | December 2011 Issue
One way to understand the nature of giving is to talk with those whose lives are devoted to asking. Panhandlers and charity fundraisers will tell you it’s all about guilt. Prosperity preachers will tell you it’s all about greed. True, they don’t offer this information right away, but if you speak with them long enough…
Ever wonder why charities devoted to feeding starving children parade clients on television, their bellies swollen, their faces covered with flies they somehow cannot muster the strength to swat away? Isn’t it enough to know that kids are starving? Do we really have to be guilted into giving by watching video footage of their suffering? Maybe we do.
And if guilt doesn’t work, try greed. That’s the idea behind the Prosperity Gospel.
God—despite the fact that camels do not pass through the eyes of needles—wants you to be rich, and the way you get rich is by giving money to those preachers who are already rich. God, they promise you, will return your gift a thousandfold. So give, not because it’s right, but because it’s a good investment, in this world and the next.
So, is that it? Is giving a matter of assuaging guilt or feeding greed? Let me suggest a third option. True giving—without an ulterior motive—happens when you realize the enormity of your taking.
The fact is that just about everything you have and are is a gift from someone or something else. Consider your body. Not only didn’t you make it, you have no idea how to run it. If you had to make your heart beat manually or fire the synapses of your brain or even grow your own toenails, could you? Of course not. These capacities are a gift from nature, along with sunlight, rainstorms, the rotation of the planet and gravity.
How about your feelings? Feelings arise of their own accord in response to situations (both internal and external) over which you have little, if any, control. You may pretend to choose your feelings, but the truth is, by the time you know what you feel, you’ve already felt the feeling without choosing it at all. Feelings are a gift.
The same is true of thoughts. While you can deliberately choose to think one thing or another, most of your thinking is unconscious, and as with feelings, by the time you know what you’re thinking, the thought has already been thought, and you had nothing to do with it.
The words you speak, the ideas you hold, the beliefs you cherish—most, if not all, of these have been gifted to you by others. Few of us ever have an original idea, and those who do are often insane.
Look at the people in your life. Without your boss, co-workers and customers, you couldn’t earn your living. Without cashiers, waitresses, bank tellers, salespeople, police, politicians and government bureaucrats, life would be much more difficult. Without the person who holds the elevator for you, or helps you pick up dropped papers or simply smiles at you in a way that reminds you that you exist, your life would be far more troubled—and without the gifts of love and friendship, far more bleak.
Do you deserve any of these things? Have you really earned any of them? No. They are gifts given that you just take.
While I doubt it’s possible to live without giving, it is clearly impossible to live without taking. And if you understand the nature of taking, you will find giving completely natural. Forget guilt and greed, giving is simply what you do with all the taking you’ve done.
Giving is nothing but the flip side of getting. When you realize the extent to which you have been gifted, you suddenly ­discover the reason behind it all: giving. There is no other purpose to your life than this. You get only in order to give. You are simply God’s (or nature’s) way of giving.
How about that “purpose-driven” life? Forget finding some unique gift that you alone bring to the planet. Forget fantasies of God blessing you with something special to do, which, if you don’t do it, leaves humanity somehow poorer. You are simply nature’s delivery driver, giving away everything you have been given. Humbling, isn’t it? Liberating also.
When you imagine giving is something special, there is the danger of sanctimony, pride and smugness. “There but for the grace of God” is often code for “God loves me; I wonder what’s wrong with this poor wretch?” But when you realize you are dependent upon taking, and giving is just what you are here to do, you discover there is nothing special about you. And that may be the greatest gift you’ll ever receive.
Rabbi Rami ( lives in Middle Tennessee, where he takes far more than he can ever give.
Photo: Ed Yourdon via Flickr

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