Selfish reasons for being selfless
Updated: Jun 7
As the holidays approach, the spirit of gift giving is in the air. For some, that spirit remains three hundred sixty five days per year. Those people typically label themselves as givers.
According to psychologist Adam Grant, Givers seek out ways to be helpful and give to others. Matchers play “tit for tat”—they reciprocate and expect reciprocity. Takers focus on getting as much as possible from others.
Of these three types of people Grant describes, I've always considered myself to fall into the selfless giver category: I give generously from the heart without looking for personal gain. I have the awesome ability to attract those who are very similar to me. The majority of my friends are givers as well.
I recently started looking at giving in a very different way when I was challenged by an acquaintance. I began to see that not all giving is created equal. I've had the pleasure of watching this person offer up everything from soup to nuts, from fighting for the country to buying other people homes, from adoption to philanthropy, from money to time....I could go on. This person reminded me of myself, but not in the way you may think.
I started hearing a tone of expectancy tied to their giving. I heard things like, "I kept her daughter for years even during late evening hours...the least she could do is......yadda yadda yadda." I heard, "You should act like or do <blank> because that's how I've treated you." I also heard things like, "I don't believe she's a real friend. She needs to prove it by...." This individual's perspective was mortifying. They were so convinced that they were giving without expectation that it was hard to convince them that their actions had ugly undertones.
More importantly, I began to question was I this way. Was my giving really quid-pro quo? Is the act good if and only if the person behaves and responds as I think they should? Did God bring this acquaintance into my life so I could see my behavior mirrored? After about two months of watching this person's behavior, I knew two things for certain: 1) I didn't want the person doing a damn thing for me, and 2) after performing an act of service, laying a guilt trip is never an act of love — it is always an act of violence. It may masquerade as 'nice' but nice is not enough. Nice is absolutely nothing. Nice is not a fruit of the spirit; it's a social strategy. Kindness is a fruit of the spirit. There's a big difference.
The biggest thing I've learned about givers is that sometimes they have selfless reasons for being selfish. Perhaps they gave because they wanted validation, acceptance, or a person to stick around. Sadly, there are a ton of givers who have these types of desires in their subconscious and can't see beyond the act itself. This isn't to say that every act performed by givers is selfish; notwithstanding, selflessness will always be driven by serving one’s feelings, values, or desires which is ultimately serving yourself.
I started working on being a better giver. Before any act of service, I ask myself, "Self, if you do this and this person doesn't say thank you, are you going to be pissed?" If I answer yes, then I don't do it because I'd be doing the act for the wrong reason. If I answer no, I proceed because I know I have absolutely no expectation in performing the act.
Instead of reminding someone what I've done for them, I do things for others without a second thought and make these things invisible, like ultraviolet light.
I discovered that doing something for someone is magnanimous, but allowing someone to do something for you is its own kind of generosity. It takes an open heart to know how to accept someone else’s offering. I am also working on this in parallel. Balance.
“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good" Samuel Johnson