The Art of Giving Freely

When was the last time you gave someone something?

It could be anything from a dinner treat to a souvenir you brought back from an overseas trip. It could even be a packed lunch for a busy colleague. Many of us like to think that we give what we give freely, without any need for reciprocation. And to a certain extent, that’s true. When we give others physical gifts or gifts of our time and effort, most of the time we simply want to please the recipient. The feeling of making the person happy is often all we need.

Or at least, that’s what we think is all we need.

Imagine a scenario where you kept giving someone such gifts, but the person was neither appreciative nor reciprocated with any gifts of his own. In this scenario, let us leave aside community service and care for the disabled: I am referring to a fully able-bodied recipient who has the ability to appreciate and reciprocate, but chooses not to do so.

Perhaps while reading the above paragraph, you may have already thought of past instances where you felt it was not worthwhile to be nice or helpful to someone because of their lack of appreciation or reciprocation (I am saying these two words too many times. Maybe I should use the abbreviation A&R instead). You probably thought, “Why should I bother to help this person when he doesn’t even appreciate it?”

The above thought process is entirely natural – it is just human nature to want to be appreciated for our efforts. And a desire for reciprocation is simply our want for an even relationship of “give and take”. But that said, doesn’t this prove that we actually did have an expectation when we gave the gift?

If you have difficulty following my reasoning so far, what I am trying to say is that we unconsciously give with an expectation of receiving something in return. It might be appreciation, or it might be a gift from the recipient in the future, but whatever it is, we expect SOMETHING. And that means that we are not giving freely, contrary to what most of us believe. We tend to think of ourselves as more altruistic than we really are – another aspect of our not-very-pretty human nature.

Now this is not necessarily a big deal. As I said above, it is only human to expect something in return. We all have a deep-seated need for life to be “fair” – that is why the concept of karmic retribution and reward is so intuitive and tantalizing to us (But that is a matter for another day).

So if our inability to give freely is not a big deal, why am I writing about this topic? Why did I take the trouble to point out that we have an expectation of A&R from others when we choose whether to give or not? My purpose in pointing this out is not so much that we should give freely because it is the right thing to do (although this is of course a good ideal to aspire towards). It actually has more to do with the idea that our actions are being externally motivated rather than originating from inside us.

What do I mean by this? I mean that by needing A&R from the recipient, we are letting others dictate our actions. This is as opposed to doing something (or not doing something) because we ourselves want to do it. Nobody likes to be told what to do, right? But by having this expectation, that is exactly what we are doing: We are giving the other person power over our actions, and our lives by extension.

Other than being a self-driven person as opposed to one who relies on others to make decisions, there is another huge benefit to deciding to give freely without expectations: it makes us more sincere givers.

Sincere? What do I mean?

When you give something because you alone want to, without any expectation of A&R, it is a freely given gift. The recipient can accept it without needing to worry about needing to find something to give in return. Even if the recipient is not appreciative, your continued gifts to that person will only serve as further proof of your sincerity, because it will be clear that you are not doing it for any self-gain.

In conclusion, it may do us some good to examine if we have any unconscious expectations in this aspect of our lives. If we do, then we should take back the power to decide our actions from others. A truly independent person does not need any external stimulus to dictate whether he should give or should not give. What about you?

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