By Mark E. Smith
We’ve all known the phrase, It’s better to give than to receive. And, I can tell you that there’s a lot of merit to it. I know that for me, realizing that I’ve made a difference in someone’s life is exceptionally rewarding. I do right because it’s right, and I certainly don’t expect anything in return. But, it feels really good to know that I’ve supported someone’s efforts in a situation that I can relate to, assisting out of respect and appreciation for him or her.
Yet, there’s tremendous merit to receiving, too – and, as a culture and individuals, we do a horrible job at it. Nod your head if you’ve ever felt awkward, undeserving or guilty upon receiving. I’m nodding my head with you! Maybe it’s been something as simple as allowing a friend to treat us to lunch, or as profound as receiving love from our partner. No matter, we can struggle far more with receiving than giving – and we need to resolve that in each of our lives before it takes its toll. The fact is, a sure way to self-sabotage ourselves in ways ranging from subtle guilt to destroying important relationships is to not feel comfortable or worthy of receiving from those who care about us.
As a child of alcoholics, I wasn’t raised to receive. If you’ve ever been around any sort of addict, you know that the nature of addiction is that it’s fed, including by family members, where you’re on the hook, so to speak, to give, give and give, to a disturbingly unhealthy degree. And, in that process, you either never learn to receive or you lose your ability to feel comfortable receiving – and that happened to me. I never truly learned to receive graciousness, care and concern from others. And, it led me to feel unsettled later in life when others, with absolutely pure intentions, strove to give to me, where my emotions ranged from uncomfortable to guilt and shame. One area of contention in my life that I take ownership of is that in the past, I struggled to allow others in my life to physically assist me in my daily needs due to my disability. And, it frustrated and hurt some around me. At times, those close to me wanted to assist me with certain aspects of my everyday routines out of love and appreciation, and I didn’t know how to receive that. I knew how to give, give and give, but I didn’t know how to let others support me, I didn’t know how to receive. And, so rather than receive, I chose to struggle physically and emotionally, sometimes self-defeatingly pushing people away.
However, it was my daughter and my ultimately being a father that taught me to receive. I mean, when your 4-year-old makes you an “I Love You, Daddy” card, how can you not soak that in to the depths of your heart and receive such an unconditional act of love? As a result, I’ve had the blessing over the last 17 years – and, it’s been a learning process! – of knowing the joy of receiving in so many amazing ways, including unconditional love.
Of course, in the process of raising my daughter, I’ve done a tremendous amount of giving. After all, that’s what we do as parents – that is, we give to our children in the purest ways possible, putting them before ourselves, period. Yet, that form of giving has also been a life-changing experience for me because it’s stemmed from the healthiest of places – the heart – a complete contrast to where I gave to addicts as an adolescent out of a skewed sense of obligation, guilt and inappropriate placements of responsibility upon me.
All of this has led me to among the most profound life lessons that any of us can carry. Relating with those close to us isn’t about giving or receiving, after all. Rather, relating with others around us is truly about reciprocation. See, if we’re going to have the healthiest relationships, we must give and receive. What’s wonderful is that this doesn’t mean we give and receive in the same ways, but that when we do for others, we’re comfortable with them doing for us in different but no less meaningful ways. See, reciprocation is about the sincerity of the emotion itself, not its product. I’m 43 and my daughter is 17, so obviously we have very different needs and different abilities to offer. Yet, while I make every attempt to meet her needs, she equally strives to support mine. I may surprise her with a gift that she’s really wanted, as I have the ability to buy it; whereas, she may surprise me with a home-cooked meal. We have a constant volley, where we both intuitively support each other, reciprocating in different but sincere ways. This principle applies not just to parent-child relationships, but all relationships. If, with our romantic partners, we let down our guard and truly know that we’re worthy of not just giving, but receiving, as well, our relationships – and our hearts! – will flourish because nothing is holding us back from loving and being loving.
Giving to others in the most unconditional spirit truly is rewarding. However, it’s heartwarming and soothing to the soul to likewise receive from others. Let us give, and let us receive. Most of all, let us reciprocate, where, together with those we care about, hands hold hands.