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The heart of generosity

August 5th, 2004 · 3 Comments

Through the week I’ve been thinking about the truth in Chip Gibbons’ piece on generosity.

Generosity requires a free choice for there to be a gift. A gift implies something that is given. When generosity is mandated by law their is no gift because nothing is given. Everything is taken. The use of force erradicates the good will and the generosity.

This morning Halley Suitt quoted Jay Rosen from Dan Gillmor’s book We the Media

The weblog comes out of the gift economy, whereas most (not all) of today’s journalism comes out of the market economy.

and then continued with her own commentary on why we (crazy) bloggers blog for free and what was the story there.

Ask me why I’ve diapered a lot of babies’ bottoms. Ask me why I’ve given a lot of people directions on the street. Ask me why I let drivers back out of their driveways in front of me and beep beep to let them into traffic when it’s safe and I can be gracious.

Earlier in the week Dare Obasanjo used examples from his own life to illustrate hugh macleod’s The Sex and Cash Theory

THE SEX & CASH THEORY: “The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task in hand covers both bases, but not often. This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended.”

And recently Colene asked

How much of what we do in life is out of expectation or obligation? Or rather, if we didn’t have other people judging us, would we really act and react differently? Or would the little voice in our head still keep us “in line”?

These posts this week have simmered inside me, hitting on issues of passion and freedom, generosity and gifts. Below are some thoughts that came to mind from this collaborative stew cooking in my aggregator and my own experience…

Would you blog the same even if someone paid you to blog? Does an act change with the exchange of money? Sure, I think, sure I’d be happy to be paid to blog. But would it be the same? It would no longer be a gift I was giving. Even if the words I typed were exactly the same, the spirit behind them would have changed. Perhaps. I’d love to be paid to write. To have that coveted book contract. But if I had to sit here each night and put something on a page, would it be the same? There are definitely things in my life that I wouldn’t want to be paid to do…

Through my life I’ve wrestled with control and obligation. I grew up surviving by duties and routines. I sucked in my breath – and my stomach – and held my heart back too. I knew what I had to do and I did it. But passion remained a stranger. The truth of who I was and what I wanted remained mysteries, hidden behind the shroud that appeared to be me.

One of the reasons holidays have been hard for me is that I grew up with a celebration of Christmas that felt oppressive. Or at least this is how it seemed to me. Gifts weren’t gifts. They were obligations. They were proof of love for a court of law. I had better find the proper gift for someone otherwise my affection would be doubted. And I had to express my gratitude with exquisite precision to ensure that the cycle would continue. I knew what gifts were, or so I thought. I didn’t know what generosity was. And I started hating holidays. Hating birthdays. It was misery.

Being controlled doesn’t mean you’ve had to shave your head or wear bright orange robes or relinquish all your material possessions. Any time you are in a group where obligation and expectation have replaced passion and love, where gifts come with strings attached, and you feel more puppet than person, then it is not love. It might be a club. It might be a cult. But it’s not a community where love is given and shared, flowing uncontrolled, like water between those who are thirsty.

If you love someone set them free, so the saying goes. I believe that those people who try to control love, want it desperately. But they haven’t yet seen that love can’t be demanded. If you demand love, you destroy it. Love has to be a choice.

Now years later I am learning how to make that choice. I am learning how to give and receive gifts. What once paralyzed me with its weight and consequence, the giving of gifts, has become a joy to me. Especially when I can surprise someone with something unexpected, a tiny treasure, a piece of praise, a little link…

I believe that we each have passions in our hearts. Wild streams of creativity that most often clash with cash. Perhaps it is better when we can’t get paid to do them. Perhaps it is the financial transaction that corrupts our true love. Or perhaps it is the force of demands and expectations, employment contracts and supervisors deadlines that fouls our purity. Can’t buy me love, says the song. Can’t force it, fire it or legislate it either.

I believe that the world revolves on a gift economy. Spiritually I believe that there was a gift made to mankind. And that this gift was given from a choice. Each of us can choose whether or not we want the gift. There has to be choice on both sides – the giver and the receiver – for it to be Love.

Tags: journal

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ilona // Aug 5, 2004 at 2:54 pm

    In order to escape from smothering obligations we have to be willing to be resented… maybe hated. We have to risk that.

    And there is an adjustment time to being truly giving. Sometimes I think the adjustment is lifelong with little increments! 😉

    And we have to reassess the importance of obligational giving… some of those things are simply little niceties that remove the friction of life.

    Maybe the whole is thing is more just being free-er with our joy in the process, which would mainly involve an attitude change. I give because I like to! It’s a good thing!

    Fly with it:)

  • 2 Helen // Aug 5, 2004 at 10:31 pm

    Yes giving is a growth process. Many don’t know how to give, and many don’t know how to receive. These are both areas for growth in any of us.

    I like what you had to say about freedom and obligatioin.

  • 3 philippe boucher // Aug 8, 2004 at 9:32 am

    I am concerned with the political consequences that can eventually be derived from the idea that it would be best not to regulate anything and let the spontaneous flow of generosity take care of what needs to be taken care of. I read that recently in the comment of someone arguing that since the tax cuts enacted for the superrich, there had been an increase in (tax deductible?) “charity” giving: the implication seemed to be it was better not to tax people and let them give back whatever they want to.
    I don’t mean to say this is how all people putting a focus on free individual generosity think but I have met people who generalize that way. I do agree that when there is no social safety net people tend (at least it has been my experience here) to be more generous with each other. But those individual acts of generosity don’t take care of the bigger picture.
    Not sure it makes sense but I just wanted to mention this caveat.