His reluctant gratitude matched my reluctant gift. I had just helped another person who, on his way to Florida from California, had car trouble, leaving him without money for gas and food. My contribution, added to others on the way, will get him to his destination-assuming that his story is true.
His arrival, disturbing my concentration on essential work needing to be done, made me a reluctant giver. His departure made work impossible as I dealt with the turbulent feelings that had emerged. Why, I asked myself, was this encounter so unsatisfactory? Even more, why does so much of our giving and receiving-from foreign aid, to welfare, to assisting the stranger traveling through, to helping a family member or friend-sour us?
Only when I began to think of my own resistance to being 'helped' by others did I begin to understand the treacherous dynamic in giving and receiving. Simply put, I do not want to be helped. The small child still obstinately announces, "I want to do it myself!"
I am reluctant to admit to myself, much less to another person, that something is wrong or lacking in me that I can't correct, and experience tells me that along with the gift from another comes advice, disapproval or disdain. Also, being in debt to another often leads to a changed relationship. If my experience is true of others, giving and taking help is a minefield of large dimensions.
It turns out that it is the attitude and motive of the giver that is the key to healthy giving and receiving. For the giver has to overcome the natural resistance of the person being helped, even when the help is asked for, as well as the desire to deal with feelings of power or control in the relationship. Can, for example, financial help be given by parents to an adult child without 'parental advice?' The poet James Russell Lowell has a wonderful line: "the gift without the giver is bare."
Of course, the traveler could sense my unhappiness at being disturbed. Certainly, he could detect a sliver of skepticism borne in my mind from numerous other persons over the years stopping for help. Thus, his begrudging gratitude.
Genuine giving must be done with discretion and wisdom. There are a lot of frauds, scam artists, and people lazy enough to live off others. Supporting them is not a wise thing to do. But, along with the wisdom of discrimination, I need to better learn the wisdom of sensitive giving.
Still, having considered the difficulties of giving and
receiving, I would rather err on the side of giving wrongly than
not helping at all. Purity of heart in giving and receiving is,
as in other areas of life, hard to come by.
--Robert H. Tucker
21 September 1998