As a child I was often told “it is better to give than to receive.” I always understood this message in terms of giving gifts to others rather than getting them, and the implication was that somehow in doing so, I would be a better person for doing it. While I could hear what I was being told, I could never quite understand why or how this might be true. It took me a long time to really grasp the crucial significance in this message.
In many, many different ways and at many different levels, my uniqueness, my individuality, the very experience I call “my” self, has been, and continues to be, significantly connected to others’ experiences of me. When others treated me as valuable, I was likely to see myself as having value. When I am loved by others I will probably feel lovable.
Similarly, I am likely to feel disturbed and defensive when others are angry or critical of me, and embarrassed or ashamed when others point out things I have done that hurt them. It is a strange and painful paradox that much of who “I” am, the types of experiences I am having and how I define those experiences, exists by virtue of the quality of my relationships I have had and am having with others.
We are not impacted equally by everyone. Rather, the size of that effect is typically related to the depth of our personal relationship. Those who have meant the most to me are the same ones whose actions and responses have had the greatest effect on how I define myself. Those who I “love” have a greater impact on my sense of self than those I “like” and so on down the line.
So it is vitally important that I should ask myself this question; “How am I treating the significant others in my life (especially the ones I love)?” because they are so crucially important in how I feel and think about myself. If I want to feel good about myself, and much of that experience arises within my significant relationships, then how conscious am I about what I am doing to the people I care most about? And it is precisely here where the giving and receiving part comes in to play.
I can either give, which is to act in loving and caring ways toward others, or I can wait, and perhaps even demand/expect to be loved and cared for (RECEIVE). I can choose to engage in particular actions with intention, or I can passively hope that something positive will happen for me in my relationships.
In giving, I am taking responsibility for myself, my actions, and my relationships. While I can never accurately predict the outcome of such actions I am at least steering the ship in the direction I want it to move in.
When I wait to be cared for and loved, everything is reversed. I become the passenger in the boat. I have almost no say in what is going to come my way and since others will eventually tire of giving with such poor return they will get frustrated. Conflict, struggle, and disappointment is virtually guaranteed.
From my perspective, this giving and receiving distinction reflects a critical distinction between love as an action and love as a feeling (see my articles “Love As An Act of Will”). As I see it, this is the crucial message in the Golden Rule “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Others Do Unto You”. At one level it can be seen as a form of compassionate guidance in how to treat others. But at another level it instructs and encourages us to “do”, rather than be “done to”.
As with all profound teachings, there are many levels of meaning. So too with the lesson about giving and receiving, for when we understand that it is in the act of giving that we receive, then it offers so much more than advice about gift giving.