I know I sound like a curmudgeon. At 84, I’m guess I’m entitled. But here’s my beef with what’s become an everyday expression for too many people. Put another way: Here’s something I fail to understand:
Why in heaven’s name do people say, “I want to give back?” Give back? For what? Is the act of “giving” really the other half of a deal, a bargain, an exchange, a barter, a quo for the quid?
Giving in its true sense is an act in and of itself of sharing, donating, offering, providing without any strings. It’s a C O N T R I B U T I O N.
How did we and our language get so entangled with this idea of “giving back?” How did we get locked into this crazy notion of a giving as reciprocity for something? Can’t we just give without strings?
Or is our usage on auto-pilot? Are we just programmed to say “give back” without even thinking of what that term means?
Generosity is, I believe, fundamental to our species. It is a natural act. Kids who haven’t been conditioned for selfishness are natural givers. For them, sharing is not a right, or an obligation. It’s something intrinsic to their beings. Until, it isn’t. Until it’s seen as fulfilling one’s end of an exchange.
The next time you’re about to intone “I want to give back,” try: “I want to contribute” instead. Feel how more meaningful these words are. How the words release you from feeling you owe someone or some group something. How the word “contribute” frees you to act from your essence, from your core, and not because society expects this of you. Instead, it’s something you expect from yourself. Because it’s good.
Marilyn Clark says
Hey, Sig. it’s good to hear from you. We met at Carolyn’s wedding. I’m her old roommate. I think giving back isn’t meant so much as paying back as it’s meant to say giving thanks for all one has received. I like the term paying forward. As I recently explained to a young conservative, helping people in need isn’t charity, but investing in a healthy society.
Carolyn Parr says
“Investing in a healthy society.” Yes. Thanks for writing.
Steve Garmon says
I don’t think you’re saying that reciprocity is a “bad” thing, but it does have some negative overtones. For instance that feeling I get when someone gives me something and I feel almost obligated to respond in kind. If, for whatever reason I don’t “give back”, it leaves me feeling that I’m not fulfilling my part. Is that feeling/reaction common to most people? I suspect it is and that may be what drives most of our giving. Contributing with no strings attached as you accurately posit is an act of real generosity. I hope my response here is not in the “give back” realm.
Carolyn Parr says
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Steve.
Anita Blackman says
I agree with you!