Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
October 2007 - Volume 07, No. 7
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Givers and Takers in Relationships Part 3 of 4 - Givers

This month’s newsletter comes in four parts - published weekly through this month. The overall topic is
Givers and Takers in Relationships

Having focused last time on the Taker, now I’ll focus on the Giver in relationships.

Givers are the “good people.” They are also the “nice guys” that “always finish last.” How is it that this “goodness” is so often the path to disillusion, depression, and even betrayal?

The virtue and satisfaction of giving

The late visionary and architect, R. Buckminster Fuller (d 1983), inventor of the geodesic dome, once said (sadly I have lost my copy of the specific quote) that the earth has sufficient resources to feed, clothe, employ, educate, and enrich the lives of every living person on the planet. The only problem is distribution. Whatever we don’t truly need, we must give away. No more hoarding. The New Testament accounts of the teachings of Jesus are even more radical in this ethic of universal plenty.

An interesting new book in the religious marketplace is Stephen B.McSwain’s The Giving Myths. In it he transcends the time-worn standard religious arguments in favor of his claim that “Your highest purpose in life is to give yourself away and generously share your abundance with the world.” This, he says, is the key to “getting the life you’ve always wanted.”

This lesson seems to bubble up again and again from the secret places of the earth that “the best way to have enough is to be willing to give it all away.” But couple that with another seemingly “natural law” of the ego that what we feel we need is usually about 115% of what we really need. Hoarding is built-in to our psyches. The antidote is self-discipline, which is why every spiritual discipline involves a structured system of giving that is always a bit at odds with the individual ego.

Built into the genetic wiring of most women is a deep desire to live in an abiding flow of love. A wife wants to live in dynamically shared love with her husband, and in sacrificial giving to her children. Built into the genetic wiring of most men is a deep desire to give in loving service to others, beginning with his wife and children. That’s why we men go off to work, and in time of need, are willing to go off to war (back when wars perhaps made sense) and sacrifice ourselves on behalf of our home, village and state.

We all have a deep reservoir from which we want to give, freely, without quid pro quo (without any recompense). But as so often happens, that which is most human and good in us often gets bent, broken, twisted, lost, and even poisoned by the circumstances of life. As with the taker who can at heart no longer trust the world to know and honor him or her as a real person, so with the giver. A giver can still find ways to give, which is still a right thing, but for the wrong reason.

The traps of giving - the Over-giver

Our early lessons in giving involve a quid pro quo - fitting the early childhood models and limits of moral development. I can learn to give because I can know and enjoy the benefits of someone else giving to me. In short, I’ll give so that or because I can also get. And if we live in a world where we can experience our needs being met, our developing self is sufficiently nurtured. We can then develop further toward giving from the self, rather than just giving for the sake of the self.

The best explanation I can give about of why some people give and give - but then suffer an absence of getting back in turn, is that they carry some wound by which they are still stuck giving in order to get some nurture for the self. This is the over-giver. The world has somehow betrayed them so that they can no longer trust, and so their conditional bargain with the world is that “if I give enough, then hopefully I’ll get at least some (maybe even enough) back.” This is the desperate over-giver who attempts to cajole the world into acceptance, or at least a small amount of caring in return.

This is essentially the same history as the Taker - where the world has betrayed an ability to trust, and the residue is a cynical "I'll just have to take for myself."

In both cases, for the taker and the over-giver, the hunger for love has been betrayed. The deep desire to live in love has been poisoned. All that’s left is the desperation of using another person in a pseudo-love that’s tolerable at least until the arrival of natural death. And if we pay close attention, we may notice that two dark cousins have also taken up residence - anxiety and fear.

Now we can begin to see why many women are attracted to ‘jerks’ (and men to ‘loose’ women). Their unpredictability, their devil-may care attitude, their ability to challenge authority, and their domination and even abuse, provide an energetic respite from the deeper betrayal of love, on the part of both the hunter and the hunted. And so often the rest of us can only watch in horror, knowing that whatever we say in warning will never be heard.

Healing for the over-giver

Healing for the over-giver is somewhat the same as healing for the taker - except the over-giver does not suffer that fiendish bind that is designed to prevent the taker from ever acknowledging their unhappiness. Consequently there are more over-givers in therapy than there are takers. Also, the former are generally more capable of handling the anxiety and ambiguity that is often necessary for therapeutic change.

The basis and fundamental energy of healing is love. This is why people enter relationships in the first place - we are hungry to give and to receive love. And when we’ve had precious little mature love from our roots (childhood, etc.) our search for love as grown-ups can be like the blind leading the blind. But still we hope - even in the most abusive of situations.

And I carry that hope for my clients - personally and professionally. Perhaps its my native stubbornness. Maybe it's my ethical and spiritual background, or life purpose. But it's definitely there. And I'm glad.

Next, I’ll conclude this series with a discussion of the outcomes and resolution of giver/taker relationships. Is there hope? And where do we find it?

In the meantime, keep paying attention!

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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