Obligatory Giving

Obligatory Giving

There is a person who is sweet and kind and tries to help others know what to do. I hate that. I feel controlled. I was strongly hinted at today, oh, heck, I am going to come right to the point. I got an email from my sister. Her daughter and her partner have purchased their first new home and are very excited about it. I am very happy for them. The email note was simple enough, telling me they got their new mailboxes installed and here is their new address, but it was followed by the simple sentence, “She would probably like a hello card. *hint”. Exact wording.

Reading that felt like being slapped. I know in her heart my sister thought it was cute, or a nice reminder, and it would be good for us to shower her daughter with cards or something, but to me it reached down with a slimy little tendril and latched onto a much larger family and societal wound.

It feels bossy and controlling to me. Yes, I can ignore the instructions, the HINT, or simply laugh it off knowing it came from a kind place in my sister’s heart. Today I can’t do that. The simple sentence opened a huge wound window in me. I have been working very hard to repair deep wounds, so ignoring this trigger would be like tossing a yummy fish back into the river when I am starving to death.

Being told to do something, something nice, a thing that I might do on my own from the goodness of my own heart, feels like saying to me, “If I didn’t remind you, you would never think to be nice to someone else.” It is an old old pattern that says I am not good enough, so someone else has to remind me to be good, because I certainly wouldn’t be nice on my own initiative. It follows that perhaps I am not a nice person at all…or lovable. Without being helped by this instruction, which is laughingly presented as *hint, I am a horrible rotten person who never does anything nice or loving for anyone. I have to be reminded, even how to be nice to others and when to give to them. Not only that, but I am too stupid to recognize a hint unless it is labeled as one!

Being told to do something nice for someone robs me of the feeling of being nice on my own. It turns the simple act of sending a card into a thing that I must do in order to prove that I am nice, good and worthy of love. It says to me that I cannot be trusted to do something thoughtful or kind for another person unless I am prompted. It shovels me a load of guilt if I do not comply.

All these feelings are wrapped up in that wound. I don’t want to send a card now, because I don’t like being told what to do. Now, even if I do send a card, it would be because I was told I should, rather than that I thought to do something sweet on my own. It is like stealing my thunder. It dilutes my sense of satisfaction and pleasure in the act of giving.

I bet I would have thought to send her something on my own, but now I will never know. If she gets a card from me NOW she will thank her mother instead of me, because her mother has reminded everyone to do this. And why did her mother not allow her daughter to make the announcement about her address herself? That robbed her daughter of the chance to share her happiness. How will my niece know who really does care enough to send her mail if we all just do it because we were told to? See how it is?

It feels like a lose-lose situation now. Either I follow the instructions and feel like I am being controlled or coerced, which is very close to being bullied, or I don’t send a card and my niece thinks I don’t care. This little sentence takes away my ability to give of my own volition. I no longer have the option open to make a personal decision. That is very close to the heart of this, that my ability to make a choice has been partially removed. Of course I can choose not to participate. I love my niece. I just want her to know that I care, without her thinking I sent a card only because her mother told me to.

I wonder if that is why Christmas is now a holiday of obligation rather than of joy and giving? We are told in so many ways what, how much, and who we MUST give to…and so we do not have the personal joy of giving from our hearts because we love someone or just want to be nice. All that is stripped from us by the heavy marketing of the holiday for well over two months. Perhaps that is why many people complain how “commercial” it all is.

I hate being told that I must be nice or that I must give. I really don’t like the “go-fund” pages that ask me to give so someone else can have a nice vacation, or to help them move, or even the biggies like disabilities, or people who got burned out needing my money. I feel like I am being pushed and shoved to give all the time. School kids used to wash my car, or sell seeds or gift wrap to raise money. Now they stand by the door of the big box store and hold out cans with slots. I wonder if the people who complain about the entitlement attitudes of the young put money in those cans? So we are teaching our youth to panhandle? Then there is the guilt that is felt if you don’t give to them. I have worked very hard to earn my money. When I give I want to enjoy the act not just feel it is required.

So, I thank you sister for opening up a little window to a deep wound that needed to be scrutinized. I will send a card when I feel like it. I wish I could speak to you about the wording and how it affects me. It makes me feel defensive and diminished. I am not stupid and can take a hint without it being pointed out to me that it is one. I would have been so much more comfortable with different wording. For example, “I plan on sending her a card right now!” or “ I think I will send her happy mail to break in her new mailbox!” Not the blatantly labeled “*HINT”…which definitely implies that I am being instructed to send a card. I don’t hold it against you personally since I know it was not intended as a slight. In fact I really am grateful.

I think you would be surprised at how nice I can be if I don’t feel pushed into a corner. I actually like being nice. Recently I did send a card that I am positive was a total surprise to the recipient. I had a wonderful feeling inside when I mailed it. The anticipation that I was going to give an unexpected smile and some love to a person I care about was the sweet delicious feeling of true heart-felt giving when it is not an obligation or an expectation.

Yes, perhaps it sounds like a small matter, but I think this is part of a long running large pattern in our society.

True giving is a feeling I think we humans miss a lot. I think it is what is behind the “pass it on” and “random acts of kindness” movements where we pay for someones’ coffee or do some little thing for an unsuspecting person. I think giving is a natural act for most humans, and we are searching for that feeling of satisfaction and delight. Giving fills an inner need in us to show love to others.

Our culture, led by sales and marketing, has invented all sorts of  “special days” where we are obligated to be nice and give a card, flowers or gifts to grandparents or teachers or secretaries, or whoever the day is designated for. Some of us are always left out because no days apply to us. Are we supposed to feel unloved because we work in a field where we don’t have a designated thank-you day?

These designated days dilute any deeper sense of true gratitude and turn it into another obligatory need to purchase, to buy more stuff and increase our consumption of goods. Our population on this earth has exploded to the point where giving a card is actually using valuable planetary resources. If every grandparent gets a card on their designated day imagine how many cards will go in the landfill a little later on. And now add the other days when we are supposed to send a card. Can anyone see a problem with this? Cards aren’t the problem. Giving isn’t the problem. Being nice isn’t the problem. It is the creation of the obligation which becomes a problem. First it robs us of the truly deep satisfaction of authentic giving, then it destroys more planetary resources!

I like just being nice and enjoying that delicious sense of love and warmth when I decide, all by myself, to give.