August 9, 2023

Giving & Receiving: The Different Ways we can Help.

There’s nothing that I can say in this blog that will be of any value to you if there isn’t a deeper understanding conveyed.

I’m going to attempt to define a word, but the point isn’t to dissect the definition but to illustrate that sometimes a word can carry multiple meanings. Languages have different words to describe similar ideas.

It can sometimes be helpful to have a word, or multiple words, to better understand a concept. For example, take the fact that it’s estimated there are up to 50 words for “snow” in the Eskimo language. Since they deal with it on such a consistent basis, it can be expedient to convey what type of snow someone is referring to by having a different word.

“Don’t eat the yellow snow” can be an important way to distinguish different types of snow.

In the same way, languages can have deeper philosophical ideas hidden behind words (not just potty humor). English, unfortunately, is rather pedestrian, so I’m going to create my own variations of definitions for a singular concept that often isn’t divided up into the different ways it can be thought of typically.

“To give” is the concept and I’d like to differentiate between the various ways it can be expressed. And here is how I’m going to break it up:

1. Give

2. Aid

3. Service

4. Altruism

The point of this exercise isn’t merely a scholarly interest without any practical purpose for a love of lexicon in an overly pedantic pursuit exploring etymology. Are you still with me after that last sentence? Anyway, it’s more than just words, damn it.

“Men of the world who value the Tao all turn to books. But books are nothing more than words. Words have value; what is of value in words is meaning. Meaning has something it is pursuing, but the thing that it is pursuing cannot be put into words and handed down.”
~ Zhuangzi

Let’s start with the standard meaning of giving and move on to the other three variations after that.

Remember: these are my definitions, so don’t expect to find them in the dictionary.

To give. This is generally understood as providing something to someone else. The connotation this act carries with it, however, is that it is done with the expectation of getting something in return (your definition might be different, but hopefully by the end, you’ll see what I’m getting at). One could almost understand this to be synonymous with borrowing or lending because it’s expected that something will come back in return. This is the most basic form of giving, and it will help to see the other definitions next for how this differs from other types.

To aid. This is another form of giving, but in this instance, I believe it carries with it a mental concept that one is giving because they have more than someone else. Think of humanitarian work, where the more developed country goes in to help the less wealthy country with its problems. This carries a judgment with it, that one is better off than another, and so they should give out of a sense of obligation. Now, I’m not saying this is a bad thing because there is great disparity in the world. A fraction of the population controls the vast majority of the wealth and resources. But the point of this blog isn’t about the redistribution of wealth, it’s about words.

To be of service. This is another form of giving, but the motivation behind it is different from hoping for something in return or doing so out of a moral obligation. Being of service stems from a sense of charity and an outpouring of love, in which the individual wants to help because they want to see others happy because it makes them happy. As opposed to aiding, which comes from morality, service comes from emotions. There isn’t an expectation to get anything in return aside from a good feeling for helping someone else.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” ~ Acts 20:35

I can remember having the realization as a kid how good it can feel to give to someone else, and it was quite the realization for me. This is particularly true for us in the Western world, in which it’s overly individualistic and materialistic. We are taught to get more and more for ourselves and that “more” (whatever it might be) will eventually bring happiness.

To be altruistic. This is the last kind of giving I’ll go into here. This is probably the most aligned with the typical dictionary definition and means giving without any expectation of anything in return. It’s giving with the hope of getting something immaterial, whether that be some idea of karma or “what goes around comes around.” It also isn’t to feel good about ourselves because we upheld our moral obligation or because it felt good to help someone else.

Another important factor in this type of giving is that we don’t expect anyone else to ever learn that we did it. Otherwise, we would be doing this to increase our reputation, which means we’re getting something out of the deal. For example, this would be an anonymous donation, as opposed to some charitable contribution from an individual or organization that gets recognized.

Giving without any expectation of getting anything in return or even expecting anyone to ever know we did anything is an interesting exercise. Our motivation is pure because we are not doing this for someone or something else.

Remember, the point of these variations of definitions isn’t to have an increased vocabulary but to better understand how we can give. To take the definitions literally and not apply them to our lives would be to miss the point entirely.

“A finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. The finger is needed to know where to look for the moon, but if you mistake the finger for the moon itself, you will never know the real moon.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

How have these different types of giving shown up in your own life?

Can you think of examples where you’ve participated in them or been a witness to them?

For myself, I know that I’ve been a witness, participant, and receiver of all of these types of giving. Sometimes, it’s a combination of two of them or more. I encourage you to go out and practice giving with all four types because the world could use more assistance.

Whatever your motivation may be for helping, it will ultimately be appreciated!


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