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Monday, March 22, 2010

Give and Take Collection

One of my ideas about blogging on so many subjects has been that themes would emerge by themselves. As I saw this happening, I reasoned that I could sift out the posts related to a certain theme and use them to start a targeted blog subject. A new subject seems to have emerged! Having written so extensively on this subject, I have decided that I should collect these posts into a separate blog that specializes in this subject alone. This post is a collection of the various posts on this subject, collected for your pleasure. 
 Reciprocal "give and take" is so essential that I've decided to collect them into the subject of a new blog - to be announced. I've been exploring this phenomena for some time now. Written about the different aspects of the problem quite a bit, as you can see here.

It's going to get to be a big factor as the baby boomers get to the point where they need to accept care gracefully during aging. For that reason alone, this issue could become a really important one to discuss.

Would you subscribe to a blog on just this subject as a way to allow yourself to free up the acts of gracefully accepting and learning about well-placed giving?

Here's where I ask questions about the different style of how gifts are offered,  asked around the gift-giving fervor of Christmas time.

Tacit Obligation
If someone has difficulty accepting, many times if you can vary the style of how the gift is offered, it will result in making it easier for them to accept. Making light of it's value is sometimes effective, because the best situation between giver and "givee" is when the thing is of great value to the givee and is easy for the giver to offer. But sometimes an action carries much more weight than anything they might say about it. Thus, accepting a gift incites obligation that may be only tacitly guessed. Why can't people accept a gift? A mystery part of a person is not sure what is the (sub)culturally tacit agreement about this gift; talking about it probably won't help.

Random Acts
Some people feel a need to remove themselves from the act, so that the receiver has no idea where the gift came from. It becomes impersonal. Thus we have all of the organizations that specialize in accepting tax charitable gifts and doing the messing actual giving to others.

Giving Back The proper way to "give back" is not always to do the exact same gesture, because needs are different. The mistake many people make in selecting what to give is they assume their value system of what is valuable is identical to the givee. This is not true. Being able to put oneself in the shoes of the givee is a thoughtful, compassionate act. So this is often a good reason to reject the offer of help - because what is being offered is misplaced and not of value from the point of view of the givee.

Gifts That Fit
In the small town of Bolinas, CA, we have a "freebox" where mainly articles of clothing are dropped off to be made available to anyone who wants them. The proper way to give back for the value of what you have gotten from it is to clean and organize the Freebox. Many people focus on the stuff itself; they mistake that the proper way to reciprocate is to bring more "stuff." Actually, having a place to bring your stuff to get rid of it is also a significant benefit. So the proper way to reciprocate is more like assuming the role temporarily of a "shop-keeper." A person who wanted to reciprocate would make the good stuff available to those who stop by looking to get something, (like pairing up shoes,) glean out the trash and every once in awhile, clear out the Freebox of all of it's donations so it's empty again to accept more stuff.

Allowing Benefits of Being The Giver
 The Hawaiian spirit of Aloha is a wonderful template. It observes that you must allow someone to give, even if what is being offered is not of value to the givee. Being able to give is a human right, and by gracefully accepting, you are allowing this pleasure of giving to be exercised.

Consequences of Acceptance Generally with people who have trouble accepting being given to, it's important to ask what the accepting of gifts symbolizes. To some people, accepting what is offered is a "one-down" position in a competitive sense.  To others, they are fearful that accepting the gift will make them obligated to play the role eternally.They fear they're going to lose their independence as they learn to rely on the gift being provided routinely, and will act to prevent the source going away.

Independence Declarations Causing a Split I've also seen repeatedly a situation that seemed to be a direct result of mistaking the roles and pleasures giving and receiving. The situation was where a partner was forced to accept help because of a temporary injury. Evidently after recovery, the person who had been injured wanted to reject help from their partner to re-establish their independence and self-respect. ANY help was rejected entirely, so often and completely that even the "normal" pleasures of doing things for one's sweetie symbolized infantile dependence to the person who was in the process of recovering. If this was not purposefully addressed, it caused a breakup!

Giving and receiving seems to be connected to how respect is shown. In our culture, you must choose between respect and having rapport. Here's a post where I explored it's application in how respect is signified in the context of speaking in a group interaction.  It's curious how listeners are valued socially, (which is a receptive role) when in the situation where the gift is tangible - suddenly the giver becomes the authority.

Suspicious of Greed It's also curious that when someone is in a situation of getting or having gotten a personal benefit, somehow what they offer or receive is suddenly suspect, because there's now a "invested interest." This is what happens when a person is really passionate about a belief in how something works for them and wants to communicate the benefit of their experience to others - everything they say about what they are passionate about is suddenly considered in that light or frame. They're proselytizers, rather than merely sharing their experience. I'm not sure why people believe that someone who is enthusiastic about something is self-involved or selfish.

Some people take the giver/givee challenge to the point of refusing to establish the bond of a relationship entirely. I talk about that here: There are many rituals of establishing a bond as there are subcultures.

Here's another post where I talk about the anger that results when the givee decides they are "entitled" to what the givers are offering before they're getting it. This talks about greed.

Complimenting is also an interesting way of giving back that some people feel strange about accepting. Of course, it's a benefit to find out that what you do easily is notable for others - because it signifies what could be a valuable talent. Some people automatically reject them out of hand as an expression of the deadly sin of pride or ego. Some people regard compliments of the possession of an item as a way to ask for the thing to be offered by the person who has it. Here's a story about why I believe that complimenting is an important thing to do. In my culture, handing out a compliment implies the person was (like a puppy) explicitly seeking your approval, which may not be true. Rejecting the gift implies that you would prefer to give yourself the approval. There are many other values signified by accepting a compliment that have people have reacted negatively to it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Surpassing Expectations

"What is it about your environment, history and values that encourages you to surpass limiting social expectations?" It's a very interesting question to ask in polite conversation of any grownup.  Asking it in a non-specific way leaves the answer open.

Curious answers occur. When you ask the question of a woman, you must take the replies with a grain of salt. Women tend to "tell troubles" to bond with other women. To understand much more of how all this happens and more about what the issues are concerning women and those who do not match the current social trends in their conversational style, I recommend the very conversational but content-rich books written by linguistics professor Deborah Tannen, PhD - especially her book "Talking 9 to 5."

It took me a great deal of thought about this question to find the answers for myself. There were three pivotal experiences for me.

What made the biggest difference motivating me to think for myself first happened when I was only five years old. My idol, which was my elder brother of eight years, gave me a snake for a pet - sanctioned by my parents. It was 1959, and in that era, snakes suffered from many social misconceptions about their nature. At a crucial stage when I was going to transfer my family's authority toward the authority of school & a greater social world...Here were these serious mis-matches about snakes that I knew was completely urban legend. People I did not know or trust mistakenly thought snakes were dangerous, contradicting what I knew to be true according to my family and the San Diego Zoo. This experience encouraged me to think for myself and put out effort to learn the true nature of things before I accepted societal norms. It inoculated me against cigarettes as well as sent me to college, because I decided at five that you could be free of fear if you knew more of the facts.

Of course, the most obvious solution to change the minds of young people would be world travel. Becoming an exchange student during middle or high school is the most socially acceptable way, but spending at least six months in another culture works just as well. Once you have been a young person in a radically different environment, you return and realize how self-absorbed your peers are. Not to mention how regional fashion codes really are.

The other pivotal issue was attractiveness and the social authority that went along with it. It upset me that, according to society, women were expected to be helplessly manipulative to get things done. The social fact that an attractive female asking for a "favor" gets it from a male who has temporarily lost his reasoning - this bothered me.

For me as a young girl, there seemed no way to "opt out" of that game gracefully. I did not want the power men handed me; they wanted me to deny or accept their attention. Because of the accident of birth making me coincidentally attractive, I had to deal with this issue early on. Only later I realized that this was a social reality for almost every girl. (If you're a straight guy reading this, imagine if you had to deal daily with attention from people you did not want - from other guys, for instance. This is the environment young women find themselves.)

What eventually remedied this issue for me was learning about body language. After this education, it was indisputable that how I behaved was evident for anyone to see. What sort of a person I was, my values, showed beyond my physical features. A person's character is expressed in their walk, how they move, where their attention goes & the quality of attention used. After learning about body language, I had to accept there were, in me, obvious additional desirable qualities of character. That they were there in addition to matching social definitions of beauty - well, I could accept the attention I was getting now. The attention was my fault, instead of purely an accident of nature.

So I would recommend to teach body language as part of a relationship communication class as a solution for the common desire for membership and bonding - in high school or earlier. (For me, studying Alexander Technique in a classroom situation worked.)

There are many reasons why there is a sudden drop in confidence when girls (and boys) reach middle school age. They realize how they do not match the social norms, and there is the tendency to envy what they are not. This is when girls first must grapple with social questions about how they are going to deal with sexual attention. A desire to for membership and to belong becomes important, as well as trying on what roles might suffice to deal with this big question.

The last pivotal experience for me was when I discovered creative thinking skills. Not just the result of thinking creatively by making things artistic, or modeling creative people I admired. I'm talking about the actual nuts and bolts of how to do problem solving in a situation of decision-making.

Creative thinking skills taught me HOW to think for myself. Wanting to think for yourself in spite of societal norms and actually doing this thinking constructively are two very different things. Edward de Bono has a series of proven simple but effective creative and strategic thinking skills designed for middle school aged students and older. Again - not What to think - but How. Young people have refreshing bull-pucky detectors. These natural talents can be fostered into effective and constructive rebellion. In fact, the more rebellious, the better this education works to help you go your own way more intentionally...against the crowd.

Probably nobody is going to take my word for it. But if creative thinking skills and relationship classes were taught in high school (instead of so much of what is ridiculous mind-reading for "correct" information that is taught now,) society would experience a big jump in social responsibility from all young people.

Stereotyping and trying to be "right" affects everyone.

Saturday, March 06, 2010


Was on a remote beach by the RCA towers in California, in a time before cell phones, on the first sunny weekend in April after a storm. Was watching someone hang-glide, while the guy was trying to land on the beach. Because I was watching and knew something about gliding trajectory, I could predict the hang glider was going to touch down crotch-deep in the surf. Not good. Because nobody else seemed to be watching, I got up and ran all the way down the (naked) beach to help out before the guy landed. Before I arrived, the guy was immediately pulled out by 6-7 ft waves. Couldn't figure out how to unwrap the guy from the lines when he would pop up, so I had to swim away, knowing that he could get caught underwater as he was pulled further out by the high surf and his glider maybe got hung up on the nearby reef.

When I was out in the high surf after freeing the hang glider's hands, I looked back at the nine people lined up on the beach watching us. If at that point I had thought about what this experience was going to mean to me, if I had personally known the hang glider, if I had reacted with outrage at those nine observers, I might have drowned. My ethics had been (up until that point) to help without thought to my own needs. At the time, I realized that I was out far enough off shore in heavy & rough, cold surf without a way to cut the guy free from his glider. Saving myself was now the new priority, so there were not two people drowning. So I swam away.

The nine others watching imagined I must have known the guy. They concluded the only reason I swam away was that I didn't have a knife. So they sent their best swimmer who knew life-saving techniques out - with a knife. Once I stumbled onto shore, my admonition that this was not the movies and just one person doesn't have to be The Hero, everyone else who could swim jumped into the water to help out too.

The hang glider guy was saved from drowning. Standing there looking at him as a wet cocoon by the fire people were building to warm him up, I realized how often I had tried to save people I loved in my own life, and how close I was to being pulled under in those situations too. It had profoundly affected me to turn around on that hang glider, knowing that I could do nothing more about saving him. It was quite a gift for me to know the real boundary between saving someone else and saving myself.

Fortunately, I didn't have to pay with regret that my "life-lesson" had resulted in a death. If I had not jumped in, the trained life-saver wouldn't have thought to ask among others on the beach for a knife.

I never did find out the hang glider's name. I just walked home down the beach, exhausted and happy that he was alive.