I grew up believing in the importance of giving, expressed both as putting forth energy to be productive and as charity by donation of time and resources to others in need. I was taught that giving is greater than receiving, to always go the extra mile (being productive so that others would recognize my value), to exert effort to achieve and to maintain, and that giving is a position of power. Sharing with siblings and others was also a given – it was “wrong” to withhold. The best people were always givers.
In contrast, there was a certain shadow around the act of receiving. We were made aware that, quite possibly when we received something, someone else had gone without. There was guilt attached. We were indebted to the giver and must always remember the person who had been kind enough to give something to us. Often, that meant giving in to or obeying the giver. Receiving implied that we were lacking or needy. There was shame attached. To accept charity was considered shameful.
It was okay to “get” – especially if one was a boy. “Getting” was a means to have what one needed or wanted by competing with others and putting out effort to achieve. It was a way for goods and energy and esteem to come in other than by receiving without putting out the usually competitive effort. It was a way of providing for oneself (and one’s family) without admitting any need for the help of others. One earned what one had; therefore, it was not a gift. We were to cultivate the qualities of self-reliance, rather than exhibit any kind of need, including politely refusing assistance when we could. Although competition to “win” was encouraged, taking something away (as in snatching or stealing or deceiving) from someone else was not. We should earn everything we got.
The result was an imbalance; it is an imbalance many of us share. Our culture is more individualistic; it emphasizes self-reliance, pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. The concept of cooperation is there, but the society itself is not particularly cooperative. Most of us are familiar with giving, either as a duty or a self-esteem enhancing act, but do not know what it is to simply receive. We are either one-sided, or we practice neither giving nor receiving very well.
Here is a secret; giving and receiving are the heads and tails of the same coin. One cannot give unless one has something one has first received to be given; the act of true giving opens one to receiving. It is circular.
Saints and sages, masters and mystics have for as long as people can remember exalted the qualities of gratitude and compassion. The spiritually adept of all religions have practiced them, understanding that the qualities of gratitude and compassion are intimately connected. They are on the same continuum. Compassion is giving love in action; gratitude is opening oneself with love to receive. It is not possible to practice compassion for long without also receiving, being filled with not only the motivating love to give, but also with the resources to do the giving. Receiving money, one can give money; receiving skills, one can use those talents to help others; receiving knowledge or understanding, one can share those with others. It is a circle, a continuous exchange within life. We give, and we are given to.
When we look upon receiving as shameful, we block the flow of life through us. I am deliberately using the term “receiving” as opposed to demanding, taking, feeling entitled to, or amassing. Receiving is humble and relaxed, requiring no struggle to “get”. It is trusting that the Universe, God, the One will provide what is needed, and then being open to perceive that we are being given to. The trust and the perception are the basis of gratitude, the feeling of joy and well-being at being provided for. We cannot be grateful if we do not perceive that we are being given to, or if we do not trust in that provision.
Mother Teresa is more known by what she gave to others. Less is known about her trust and her acknowledgement that she was indeed provided for. Somehow, what she needed would always come to her so that she could, in turn, give to others. The circle was intact.
Giving, too, is a humble action. Giving in order to increase one’s power or the esteem in which one is held or to increase our own inflow is not true giving, no matter the amount that may be put out. Giving to charity intentionally in such a way that the gift is actually an investment which comes back in the form of increasing profits for companies in which one is invested is not really giving. It is business. True giving regards the gift as simply belonging to the receiver; it is a natural reaction to feeling compassion or a concern with justice. It does not take a great deal of effort to do.
As a culture, we seem to lack the humility and the communal consciousness which allow us to receive, and to perceive those blessings with gratitude. This weakness results in difficulty with true giving, skewing many of our gifts to be those which increase our power, are meant to increase our esteem in the eyes of others, or to return profit to us. Lack of the ability to feel gratitude also limits our compassion.
Change starts in the present moment. Now is the time to turn our attention to cultivating the ability to feel and express gratitude, while simultaneously keeping our eyes upon the quality of our compassion. The world needs both if it and we, too, are to grow. Our individual practice and mastery of gratitude and compassion are essential. They are a component of the growing world to come.