“Give with an open heart; give without expectations of return.”
Seeing some of the most generous givers breakdown compelled me to write this.
For years, I stuck a note on my wall that read, “Expect nothing from others/external sources,” and trained my behaviour accordingly, as we are all creatures of habit.
But over a decade has passed, and the exquisite tenderness that comes with the pain of the various ways we are taken for a ride made me question that perhaps there is more than just “giving without expectations.”
Ten years of adapting behaviour to philosophy didn’t really produce stellar results, so I questioned the philosophy, and here are my findings—not the nicest sounding things they preach to us in polite society, but try it for a while. Even if it doesn’t profoundly change the way you are, the way you are giving, or the way you are hurting, see what it does for you.
Do you keep books? Emotionally, I mean.
Emotional bookkeeping is not the antithesis of giving freely—it’s how you protect yourself. It’s the giver’s insurance. It’s critical to be honest with ourselves. First and foremost, about how we are availing ourselves emotionally to others. But it’s not as easy as it sounds, because we are not conditioned to identify the types of emotional giving we involve ourselves in. So we must learn, because we need to know.
“You can only give what you have,” said my improv instructor on a subway ride we shared after a draining school day. Emotions are exhaustively draining—when they’re put to work, but especially so when they are real, because real emotions don’t go away after class, or “cut.”
Real emotions linger, they weigh you down, overwhelm you, eat away your peace. Real emotions are dirty, messy, and raw; their very existence almost guarantees therapists job security. But real emotions don’t stay stagnant within us. They are not static. They are constantly flowing, as they are the core of the energy currents that we circulate.
Deepak Chopra once compared the exchange of energy with the circulation of blood. “Whenever blood stops flowing, it begins to clot, to coagulate, to stagnate.” The same applies to our energy circuits. We are constantly giving and receiving. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we give of ourselves to those in our lives—invited, uninvited, whether by request, or demand, out of want, or duty. It’s easier to note the physical gifts we give—tangible things that sometimes come with a receipt, but it’s difficult to keep track of our time and energy—not something easily measured in cost or currency, yet endlessly valuable. Giving is one of the best things we can do.
Every relationship is one of give and take. When we feel drained, when we’re in over-drive, when we feel overwhelmed, it’s often because we are deep in the red—at the emotional bank. Accounting for emotional giving is not something we’re accustomed to doing, because that sort of intangible math simply has no utility in the daily functions of someone who’s zombie-ing through life, and trust me, most of us are zombie-ing through life.
I’ll be the first to say using “accounting” here seems like a dirty word. Why? Because we are taught to give freely, to give without expectations of return, which reads like the ethics of angels, where in reality, sometimes life operates like hell. Idealized notions of giving puts us on a pedestal, and while there are remarkable souls who adhere to those virtues, that’s only one type of giving, in a universe of constant exchange.
Emotional bookkeeping starts with identifying how you’re giving. Which “account” are you drawing out of? Because we are not “emotionally literate” in the same way that we are taught to be financially savvy, the following list is distilled from lived experiences, and cross-referenced with some of my most valued advisors in life.
- Emotional Giving as Investment
This would be true for most relationships we involve ourselves in, particularly romantic relationships. We invest in our emotions, with the aim to grow and build something. Our emotions are invested, with the objective of a return in mind. The return matters. In fact, we count on it, and when we don’t get it, it can be an unraveling of something so raw, that it’s devastating. When we are in the red for too long, the relationship will eventually collapse.
- Emotional Giving as Sacrifice
Stepping off the pedestal of virtues, I’ll be the first to say with frankness, that we don’t often plan to give this way. Giving becomes “sacrifice” when we are subjected to give up something we love, perhaps out of duty, out of obligation, out of untranslatable cultural expectations, out of…a giver’s nature, or even out of being blindsided, or gaslighted. Sometimes, we don’t realize that we are sacrificing, until it’s too late. Sometimes, what we sacrifice is our life, and that’s a heavy price-tag to pay. What’s sacrificed is a write-off. Done. Gone. The key here is to be okay with that loss—if not, this will build up as resentment over time, and the chandeliering of pain will bankrupt you. Lopsided relationships often involve this kind of giving—unhealthy at best, unfair in many ways, with a dangerous tendency to become abusive.
- Quid Pro Quo
This is how our ancestors dealt in trade and barter. Transactional and conditional giving—giving in exchange of something, trading, so to speak. Both or all parties involved are givers and receivers—perhaps not at the same time, but certainly within the same agreement. Both or all parties involved in this agreement are in clear understanding of what’s expected of one another. One hand washes the other, so to speak.
- Charitable Giving
This is the type of giving we are most familiar with, because it’s most talked about in society. It’s the “prettiest of them all,” passed down from biblical texts and all things and places championing a high moral code. Our giving is tied to a cause, whatever form the giving takes, raising awareness for that particular cause or organization is key. Sometimes, but not always, there is a goal involved—something quantifiable, measurable, and specific. If you can read this, you are more privileged than most of the world, who truly needs help. Aligning ourselves with a group of charitable causes is one of the most rewarding ways of exercising our power and our values.
- Altruistic Giving
This is the hardest way to give—because it’s the purest way to love. This is unconditional giving, but also often, misunderstood giving. Misunderstood because we, as givers, don’t really know what we want, even when we shouldn’t—because it’s human nature to “want”…right from birth. We are given this “want,” all the way from our sacral chakra; we are conditioned to “want”—this innate desire we spend the rest of our lives trying to tame. Altruistic giving is the most vulnerable and raw way to give of ourselves. In theory, we open up, we give, and then we let go. Hardest, most easily backfired, but most needed in the state of affairs we find ourselves today.
“Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali
And yet, you can only give of what you have…
Author: Xiren Wang
Photo: Author’s Own
Editor: Travis May