It’s probably fair to say that giving has long been a core tenet in diverse religious and moral codes. In fact, charity, or almsgiving, is typically regarded as an act of virtue which leads to societal as well as individual greatness. Even today, there is wide recognition of the benefits of giving. We’re naturally generous with friends, family, and business associates. Yet, we also donate to causes, we give back, we pay forward, or we lend a hand.
And while our generosity makes life better for the beneficiary, it also makes life better for us. It makes us happier and healthier. Insofar as giving freely benefits all involved it’s a good thing, especially as it establishes a virtuous circle that promotes greater joy.
The Perversion of Generosity
Unfortunately, the fundamental principle of generosity can become perverted, and often is. Business / career networking is a case in point. Perhaps there is no better example of an activity where quid pro quo is the rule built into nearly every interaction. You know. Help me get what I want, and I’ll help you get what you want.
Actually, as I was reminded in a post on “give and receive” networking, there is a new twist on that rule. And it’s to give often and unconditionally. Frankly, I think it’s misguided advice. Sure, the author of the post seemed well intentioned, and did a good job of setting expectations, including the meaning of unconditionally giving, not expecting help to come directly from a given individual you’re helping, and remaining open to help that may arrive unexpectedly from any source.
And yet, her conclusion was that it’s more fun when you approach networking as a game of give and receive. It made me think that this only corrupts generosity that’s meant to be unconditional. It creates the expectation that your unconditional giving will flow back to you, some day, in some way. It seems principled, but it keeps you locked in a game that remains the same.
Games Without End
Albert Einstein famously stated that no problem can be solved at the level at which it was created. While many of us believe we know what he meant, we mostly don’t. Fortunately, the three therapists who wrote Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution do explain it.
Drawing on the field of mathematical logic, the authors explain that groups operate in a way that preserves the integrity of their rules. Any effort to produce change from inside the context of the group can only result in an outcome dictated the rules. The system “…cannot generate from within itself the conditions for its own change; it cannot produce the rules for the change of its own rules.”
So, a game of give and receive will remain a game of give and receive. Operating by those rules keeps us forever at their mercy. In other words, unless we find a way to change the rules – and we won’t – we’ll be caught in a continual flow of transactions in which we give with the hope that we’ll someday get. And even if we receive, we’re at risk of being trapped in a game without end.
Leave the Game
Of course, we could always leave the game. We could abandon the illusion that all the selfless giving will benefit us in the long run. To accomplish this we need make a second-order change. In explaining this, Change authors draw on another theory in logic. While the explanation they offer is somewhat abstract, they are really talking about change of change. And perhaps the simplest and clearest example they offer is this:
“The one way out of a dream involves a change from dreaming to waking. Waking, obviously, is no longer a part of the dream, but a change to an altogether different state. This kind of change will from now on be referred to as second-order change.”
So, if the game of giving and receiving is the dream – and very often it is – the best solution is to wake up. That is, exit the game. Because only then can you make higher level changes that will have a positive impact.
Elevate Your Success In Life
Because give and get exchanges keep you focused on transactions, it becomes too easy to overlook the inherent value of relationships in and of themselves. Remaining forever focused on getting what you want traps you in a pursuit that may have limited benefits, no matter how much you give.
Worse, the game can keep you from developing relationships that are consistent, reasonably intimate, and create bonds based on shared experiences. In short, friendships that spark joy, and can contribute to living successfully across all parts of your life. And should you need help, it’s friends who are most apt to rally to support you. Why? Because they already know, like, and trust you.
Cultivating friendships requires, among other things, a spirit of generosity. Being a friend often means that we act in the interest of others. Yet, in the long run, we also serve our own interests. For what we create for our friends, as well as ourselves, is a brighter and more promising future with a greater sense of belonging, more happiness, mutual support, and enhanced well being.
You just need to wake up!