“Let the beauty of what you love,
Be what you do”
When my first-born son, Shaun, was 6 months old I witnessed one of many encounters that has formed my opinion about the true nature of human beings. We were at the home of my dear friend, Sue, enjoying a play date with her 12 month old daughter, Kim. We sat in the dining room having coffee and watching our children playing on the floor.
Kim (being more mobile and therefore quite worldly) demonstrated her advanced mastery by crawling up the single step to the kitchen. Once there she turned around and looked back at Shaun. Not to be left behind despite his limited experience with crawling, Shaun followed her. He got to the step, put one hand on it and began to rock forward and back. “Looks like his motor’s running but he can’t get it into first gear,” I thought.
When no progress was made on his own, Kim backed down the stair (the proper way of course—feet first) and got next to Shaun, putting her right hand up on the step, looking at him as if to say “watch me now” (think of that verse in the Supremes song “Do you Love me?”). She put her left hand on the step, paused, looking again at Shaun with a nonverbal “do this” (neither of them had any words to speak of ;-). And he did what she did. Then came the right knee, then the left, and soon enough they were both up the step. You’d have thought they’d climbed Mt. Everest they were so pleased. Kim at 12 months of age had demonstrated what giving and helping looks like.
Almost as soon as children can engage in helping behavior, they do. Even newborns respond to the distress of other newborns with a rudimentary empathy. It’s in our nature to be generous in our care for others. What Kim did for Shaun was natural, spontaneous generosity.
As we grow-up, we can develop some distorted ideas about being caring, generous people. Women are particularly vulnerable in this regard and since our 50+ theme this month is “Giving Back” now is a good time to what gets in the way of true generosity. There are two prevalent distortions to true generosity:
1. Giving from hidden guilt.
Holding ourselves back is a distorted gift: “I won’t become all I am meant to be so that you (my parents, siblings, pals, or male friends) won’t feel uncomfortable or stirred-up by my choices, my successes or even my challenges”. As children, we attempt to protect those we love from parts of us we perceive will cause hurt; we forget we have made these choices and they live-on as behavior patterns.
Hidden guilt can show itself in how we limit ourselves by not leaving behind what we have outgrown (parental influence, relationships established in earlier times when earlier needs were being satisfied, jobs that no longer challenge and cause us to grow).
Hidden guilt lives in negative views of ourselves that were a result of abuse, neglect, or earlier failures. Not only are we terribly “helpful” in our inhibition of ourselves, some go so far as to punish themselves for extra measure. Negative self-talk is a prime example of this kind of punishment. Tracing the source of this negativity usually reveals the hidden intention we had as children--to make those we love feel better, less burdened by us or upset by who we are. We want to give love but haven’t learned that it doesn’t have to be at our own expense. Which brings us to the second distortion of true generosity.
2. Giving that hurts the giver.
Women have historically been assumed to be, and at some level, valued for care-giving. Yet too often this giving can become self-sacrificing codependence. In her book “Women and Money,” Suze Orman defines generosity as giving “the right thing to the right person at the right time—and it benefits both of you”. True generosity does no harm; it enriches the giver.
We are naturally generous and there is beauty in acts of generosity:
When a friend was going through a very challenging life transition, she found that volunteering at Hospice was one of the best things she could do to keep herself from sinking into depression. Giving of herself to terminally ill patients expanded her perspective on life and gave her a place to focus on something other than herself.
Another friend and her husband had planned well, retiring early enough that they still had good health and abundant energy. They enjoyed the relaxed pace of life immensely but it wasn’t long before they felt drawn to get involved in annual trips to Guatemala to help build homes and provide services for impoverished families. My friend’s Spanish improves each year and they now have an extended family in Central America.
Generosity is not a self-sacrificing, co-dependent or guilt-based action. It is merely the reflection of our loving nature, free of distortions.
How is your heart moved at this stage in your life? Are you listening to your heart speak to you about what you love? What is the beauty of you, your inner love, moving you to do?