Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Downside Of Giving

Have you ever lent money to people you thought you knew, only to be shocked when they don't return your phone calls or even acknowledge that the transaction took place? Even if money or other services (free baby-sitting, housework, crying on your shoulder, etc.) are given without the expectation of receiving anything back, givers usually believe they have their recipients’ respect and esteem, at the very least. I think we all know that this is not always the case.

I come back to this dilemma quite often, even though I stopped being an insatiable giver a few years ago. I have family and friends who constantly find themselves shortchanged by those they give to; some of them are moving past this, while others still fall prey to it. Family members I barely know in India expect my parents, uncles, and aunts in the United States to support them and their families for as long as they live. A glaring example of this is an unemployed, yet perfectly capable cousin with three young children who refuses to work; his wife worked until she became pregnant with their third child last year. When she found out, she quit her job and stayed home for the duration of the pregnancy. Another cousin and an uncle of mine support them financially, but they show little or no gratitude for this arrangement, which is beyond my understanding.

Whether it is financial or emotional expectations, givers have to realize that the act of giving can become enabling. The recipient may see the generosity as a symptom of gullibility, and if they manipulate the situation, the giver can be left out in the cold. Before I give my time to someone, I think about any expectations I may have from the aftermath, and who the recipient is. Do I want something in return? Am I prepared for the possibility of this person becoming distant afterward? I find that if I have low or no expectations, I am pleasantly surprised when gratitude and a genuine reciprocity of feelings are expressed.

Can you give without expectations?

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