Second cousin Neal was generous to a fault. He seemed to find a lot of joy in giving gifts of things and of his time. In today’s parlance, Neal (not his real name) was a people-pleaser. His self-sacrifice was so extreme that it often made the receivers of his actions uncomfortable. Neal had a hangup about receiving.
His gifts seemed to be transactional, in that it seemed that he gave stuff on the premise that it would be eventually paid back in some mysterious way. The gifting was lopsided to the point that it was difficult to try to figure out what Neal wanted in return. His generosity seemed well-intended, yet Neal subtly hinted that he was playing the martyr. All things considered, Neal was a genuinely nice person who also seemed to enjoy being a doormat.
It wasn’t until Neal grew old and feeble that he was able to let go of some of his martyrdom. It was still in the background, though. Martyrdom revealed itself on his wedding anniversaries and birthday celebrations. He retained the difficulty of receiving favors and gifts on those occasions.
Neal was born just before the Second World War to parents whose financial well-being had never recovered from the Great Depression. Self-sacrifice and making do out of scarcity was the family culture. Since Neal was the only child, his parents showered him with nicer things than their budget could justify. This was the opinion of Neal’s extended family such as his cousins, aunts, and uncles. Family analysis and gossip aside, Neal was a genuinely good person who had difficulty not being a doormat.
It was hard to fault Neal for his generous contributions to charity, tithing to the Lutheran Church, and offering support, energy, and love to family members and friends in need. People often came to Neal for his wise advice because he really wanted the very best for people. Even though Neal could barely afford to, he bent over backwards to help people in need. When the kudos and expressions of gratitude sprang forth, Neal blushed, seemingly out of self-consciousness. To receive was something that Neal did not enjoy.
Generally speaking, we enjoy giving and receiving gifts on special holidays and anniversaries. Most of us manage to achieve equilibrium between gift giving and gift receiving. That is, we are generous within reason and gracious when we’re on the receiving end. Giving and receiving among friends and family are not like business transactions, although I know some people who treat Christmases and birthdays in such a way.
Giving and receiving becomes more emotionally loaded when it involves cash or loans. I learned the hard way avoid mixing money with friendship. So many people are reluctant to repay their loans. As a result, they distance themselves from the friend who loaned the money. More than one friendship has gone south over the issue of loaning cash.
Friction could happen when the money was given as a gift in order to help a friend get back on her feet. There was a feeling of obligation in the receiver, and perhaps a feeling of entitlement of some other form of payback in the giver. In nearly all of the instances when money and loans have entered my relationships, the friendships have become awkward and strained. Adding money to a mutually beneficial friendship unbalances the relationship.
I’m much more lenient when it comes to loaning physical stuff like tools or books. Most of my friends and acquaintances are careful with the objects and return them promptly in good, clean condition. This wasn’t always the case in the past. Too often I’d loan books or recordings and either not get them back, or I’d have to beg to have them returned. In some cases the items would be damaged. I’m more discerning about acquaintances’ characters these days. I’m thankful that my friends respect my belongings.
Giving and receiving are inborn human traits. These acts represent interpersonal harmony. Generally speaking there is equilibrium between flowing out and flowing in. In healthy relationships we are grateful for what we are given and we are happy to be able to share with others.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the Indian poet and writer, Nalini Priyadarshni. “We nurture the highest in each other without depleting the granary of our offering. We pour ourselves out to make room for the best is yet to come.”