Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Give Series 1: When Give Became a Dirty Word

When did ‘give’ become such a dirty word? So apologetic? So guilt ridden? When I think of the word ‘give’, I run through a course of emotions. First is guilt, then indignation, followed by sadness, and yet again, guilt. I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say I’m probably not the only one that has some negative connotations around giving.

So, let’s spend some time talking about it. I’d like to know if I’m right about others feeling the same, or if you have a more positive view of giving. It’s a big topic and I’d like to give(!) it justice. For the next few Thursday’s I’ll be posting thoughts on the topic and you’ll have an opportunity to respond. Here’s what you can expect:
  • This week: dictionary definition of ‘give’ compared to our actual understanding
  • Next week: ‘why’ we think it
  • The following week: busting the giving myths
  • In our last week: what we have learnt and how we are putting it into practice. presents 57 entries on the word ‘give’. It covers everything from giving a birthday present, to giving someone a chance, to giving punishment. That’s a lot of pressure on one little word. For the sake of this discussion, I’m referring to the first item on the list, “to present voluntarily and without expecting compensation”.

I’m going to break that definition down share my hang-ups of the word, warts and all.

“To present”:  What are we presenting, exactly? Material gifts, money, time, knowledge, skills, resources, energy, emotions, support… My primary thoughts are on 1) Money, 2) Gifts, and 3) Time. These are the things I am most limited in and hold most dear.

“Voluntarily”: First of all, I have to say that I enjoy giving presents. I enjoy giving kind words. I enjoy spending time with people I care about. However, if my bank account or personal-time tank is running low, I source my giving from obligation. I like to be generous with my family, friends and colleagues but when it comes to those empty tanks, I resort to my archive of what constitutes generosity in the given situation.

The word ‘give’ triggers a childhood memory of an adult telling me, “gifts should cost something of the giver”. The implication was that you should feel yourself parting with that thing you gave, like it was a part of you. For so long I remember thinking I had to be empty in some way to have really given. Empty pocket. Empty stomach. Empty brain. Empty tissue box.

“Without expecting compensation”: I’m not often a volunteer when it comes to giving. I am a paid worker. I expect to get what is owed to me when I give, whether it’s a thank you, renewed energy, a sense of closeness or my own needs met. I expect to be treated the way I treat others. That’s why, when I ‘give way’ on the road, I expect a grateful wave. I think the root of this comes back to that sense of obligation I carry with me.

Well? What does the word ‘give’ trigger for you? Do you feel good when you hear the word or do you feel pressured? What’s your ‘give’ history? If you’re feeling anxious about sharing, check out the community page and remember that this is a safe space. Next week we’ll explore this a little more and identify some ‘give’ myths.

Kate xxx

Read other "Give Series" posts: 


  1. perhaps giving becomes dirty when receiving becomes...expected?
    giving to me has an element of suprise...
    giving also becomes dirty when the receiver does not appreciate what has been given and when the giver 'overgives'
    does giving become dirtier with the growth of consumerism? the ever pressing wanting of the best most recent product rather than the true meaning of gift giving in the first place...

  2. is it when it becomes "what am I going to get" rather than "im going to get to see aunty x"

  3. Hmmmm I like your comment about it giving needing to have "an element of surprise". To often giving acts as part of social contracts/existing systems e.g. it's so-and-so's birthday. For mine they spent about $50 so I need to do the same- it becomes about the financial/material worth more than the act itself. I think for me th challenge is to look for alternative ways to give that aren't measured by financial cost or go further than the expected.

    Thanks for sharing and being so honest! It's been great for me to reflect on giving at this time of the year, heading into silly season...

  4. Hmmm one more thought... Perhaps some of our distance from giving can be seen in our wrapping or gifts. Presents aren't adorned anymore, they are stuck in a reused gift bag (not that I'm complaining about reusing), time with friends is cautioned with a list of tasks to complete, time with family has time limits and occasions. I can certainly admit to 'wrapping' a cooked dinner for my partner with an expectation of the dishes being washed, the bills being paid or vacuuming being done...


thanks for your comments, I love to hear from you!


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