Saturday, July 20, 2013

Giving too much

 
My whole life I've been an over-giver… Over the years, I have over-given with my money, my stuff, my opinions, my time, my body…

...over-giving is not quite the same thing as generosity. Generosity is neither entangling nor aggressive, because the generous person doesn't expect anything in return. The over-giver doesn't expect anything in return either—except to be petted and feted and praised and loved unconditionally for the rest of time…
 

…sometimes my over-giving left friends feeling shamed and laid bare. Sometimes, for instance, "lack of money" hadn't been a friend's problem in the first place: Maybe her real problem had been lack of confidence or organization or motivation. Maybe by erasing her money problems, all I'd done was suddenly expose her other problems. Maybe such rapid exposure is a dreadful thing to do to somebody… All I know is, those friendships withered under a cloud of mutual discomfort, and now we cross the street to avoid running into each other.

Years ago, in India, a monk warned me, "Never give anyone more than they are emotionally capable of receiving, or they will have no choice but to hate you for it." At the time, the advice sounded cynical, even cruel.... But these days, I've come to believe that when you give heedlessly or with an agenda, you actually can give until it hurts, and that the person who is most gravely injured in the exchange is the other guy.

Don't get me wrong: I'll always be a giver. I still see generosity as one of humanity's great natural watersheds—a place where lives can be cleansed, renewed, filtered back toward grace… I've learned to watch where I step. I'm more likely to trust the well-established charities nowadays than to practice social engineering within my own circle. Granted, I don't get the same endorphin rush that I used to get by waving a magic wand in someone's face...but I do get to keep my friends now…

Elizabeth Gilbert


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