In any balanced life, there is some part of us that takes nourishment from the world in various forms: a paycheck, the comfort of a well-equipped home, the love of spouse, children, friends. And there is some part of time spent giving…giving love, tending to the homestead, providing a paycheck for others through our work.
Too much taking is called greed. Too much giving can result in depletion. Right-sizing the give-get relationship is a constant balancing act.
When I was younger it seemed like every couple of years I was in a therapist’s office trying to untangle what went wrong with one romantic relationship or another. One time, the compassionate therapist made this observation: “You seem to say ‘thank you’ more than usual.” This was before gratitude journals exploded on our soft-skills landscape. The comment left me wondering, what did she mean? What else was wrong with me?
Since then I’ve come to understand a little more. I am a person who is grateful for everything, generally speaking. I appreciate things. I show (give) gratitude and appreciation.
I’ve come to understand that something has been off in my balance of giving and taking. I can be inclined to give too much.
Giving Too Much
Giving too much? How can anyone give too much? A giving person is wonderful: generous, kind, and godly.
But giving too much is, well, too much.
Looking back, I can see that being out of balance on the “giving” part created problems for my life and my relationships. Giving too much could leave me tired or even exhausted. A friend needed help to move her things from one apartment to another and I’d pitch in carrying boxes and furniture. And then I’d be physically exhausted taking the joy out of the next things I had already committed to do.
Another friend called late at night fretting about a problem her thirteen year old was having at school. At the end of a long, long call I’d feel spent, emotionally exhausted.
I’m sure you can think of examples that have left you tired, exhausted, depleted.
Over-giving can breed resentment. I listened to her problem, why doesn’t she ever listen to mine? I helped her move, where was she when I needed help?
“In the event of a loss of cabin pressure….” travellers have heard it so many times from flight crew just before takeoff. Put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Take care of yourself first or you can’t help anyone else.
Giving too much depletes your oxygen, metaphorically. If you’re not well, you can’t take care of anyone else, you can’t be generous. Depleted, you’re vulnerable to being stingy or fearful or just plain worn out.
Right-Size the Taking
I used to fly all the time when I ran a focus group practice, back and forth across the country: Monday night New York, Tuesday Night Chicago, Wednesday Night Seattle, then LA then back to New York.
I needed to be dressed right and to move fast so I carried the small bag that flight crew used back then. I’d lift it into the overhead bin because it always fit.
Then, I had a serious fall and I broke my wrist or rather pulverized all eight small carpal bones there. I had virtually no use of my (dominant) right hand for many, many months and during that time I was more vulnerable than at any other time in my adult life. I needed help all the time. I had to learn to take more help than I ever had before. I really had no choice.
When I was all healed and flying again one day I noticed something that I never experienced before. I would board the flight with my bag, reach down to load it into the overhead, and invariably someone, a man, would swoop up behind me and stow it for me.
This happened many times until it dawned on me that I had changed. Something had shifted. I had become softer, more vulnerable, more open to the kind gesture of a stranger.
I had learned to take and it changed me for the better. Being someone who can freely take of the world is someone who is trusting in a good way. I can read myself better when I’m fatigued. It’s easier to say to a friend: I’d love to help but I can’t just now.
Right-sizing the taking and the giving part is a lifelong pursuit. And it’s easy to tip too much one way or the other.
But I’m here to invite you to reexamine the bad rap that taking has gotten. Take what you need. It’s there for you.