A couple of days ago, I received a surprise phone call from a friend I hadn’t heard from in a while. Though the conversation was long and chatty as catch-up calls can be, it quickly zeroed in a something that was clearly gnawing on her mind.
She shared a story about helping someone, someone she thought was her best friend, only to be stabbed in the back in more ways than you can imagine. Naturally, she was hurt, twice when you think about it. Just being betrayed is bad enough, but getting that treatment from a close friend who had asked for and received help can be devastating.
As we talked, my friend wondered how she could give “good” and receive meanness in return…whether she might be too giving or did not always use good common sense and firm boundaries…if I she could strengthen her radar and develop a better feel for whether a person was a Giver or a Taker.
So I emailed two articles to her – “A Dozen Ways to Spot Takers Disguised as Givers” and “Are You a Giver or Taker?” And here’s where the story starts to get really interesting.
The next day, she left an excited message saying she had read the articles and now wondered if she was more of a taker than she had ever realized! In our next conversation she jumped right in: “I shared that one article – the dozen ways – with a couple of friends and asked if they saw me in that checklist because I saw myself in several of the points.”
Then she asked another really important question.
“If I can recognize this about myself, does that mean I’m a Taker or does it mean I’m a Giver who messes up sometimes? Isn’t it true that Takers can’t see this in themselves?”
In “Are You a Giver or a Taker,” the writer tells of a woman who attended one of his seminars. She complained bitterly, criticized everything, hogged the spotlight, and generally found fault. Then she accused the speaker of being the Taker for not giving her exactly what she wanted even though she was the one who refused to allow herself to be pleased!
One of the hallmarks of being a Taker is that they can never be satisfied. Their “what’s in it for me” approach to life leaves them always grasping for more without the ability to be grateful for what they have right now. Other people typically respond by backing off and declining to give any more to such a grasping person or by trying to “fix” them. My friend was beginning to suspect she might be a fixer and that might make her a Taker in disguise.
Since Takers subconsciously believe that they have to “go after” what they want and “make” it happen, they are in no mood to be fixed. They are stuck in what Ken Kreis calls an “emotional vacuum” so when something they perceive as a need is not being met, they go after filling that need by getting (taking), rather than giving. That is a huge indicator of low self-confidence or self-worth. They are often jealous. They infringe on the rights and space of others while attributing the crowdedness to others invading their space and rights. Do you see a pattern here? They think you are the one with the problem. “Taking” and judging by “what’s in it for me” are the best, and perhaps the only, ways they know how to get what they want. They will drain you of everything you have to give and still resent you because “taking” turns them into a bottomless pit. And they will interpret your normal and natural expectation for gratitude as having strings attached. And guess what. On this one they are right. As soon as you have expectations of any kind, even of receiving what you consider to be gratitude, you have inadvertently negated your gift.
One of the greatest challenges of life is learning unconditional giving, savoring the giving itself as enough. Simply giving and setting it free. Practicing the fine art of allowing the gift to find its own mark …or not.
As we talked, my friend related another story. Several months previously, another friend had gotten married. On the day of the wedding, she had shared some words of wisdom. “No matter what happens, remember to be present in every moment of this day. It will pass quickly and you will want to savor it all.” She spoke the words and forgot them. Months later, her friend mentioned that those words had made all the difference in how she experienced one of the most important days of her life.
I asked her how that made her feel. Great, of course, was her answer. I asked her what was different about the two giving experiences. She noticed two. First, the two friends were very different. One was able to receive and the other was only able to take. Then a light went off - she suddenly recognized how judging her friends’ ability to receive pegged her own feelings on someone else’s actions and how that perspective gave away her personal power. But even more importantly, she realized in one situation she gave and released what she had given - completely forgot about it– and in the other, she expected certain behaviors in return. She had unknowingly set herself up.
And that’s the secret. Unconditional giving makes us feel great. It energizes us and renews our joy in giving. The intended recipient cannot hurt us because we’ve already received our reward through the joy of giving. My friend still wants to become more mindful and less of a “fixer,” but I think she also discovered a new peace in realizing her work is done the moment she gives. The idea of giving and letting it go seemed pretty appealing.
Both of the articles contain checklists for how to recognize a Taker which can serve as a good self-assessment. In answer to my friend’s second question – If I can see this in myself, does that mean I’m a Taker or a Giver? I would say she’s a Growing Giver. It’s rare that Takers see their own actions clearly. That’s part of being a Taker. So I challenge you to take one of the tests. Even Great Givers can grow!
Paying It Forward or Giving Back. Have you ever noticed how those two phrases, both describing giving practices, are structural opposites? Hope so, because there’s a good reason to look at giving from both perspectives. One speaks to Seed Money, the other to Tithing. Both are important parts of the giving cycle.
Both are part of the 10 - 10 - 10 circle of giving and receiving. Here's how it works:
Seed Money, which starts at the front end of the process, says that everything we give will come back to us tenfold. Tithing, the belief that we should give back 10% of what we earn, is an expression of gratitude for what we have received. Seed money does not apply just to business and tithing is not just a religious practice.
The math works directly in the giver’s favor. What we pay forward comes back to us 10x yet we only need to give back 10%? Sign me up!
When the economy takes a nosedive, people naturally started cutting back on their spending including their giving. Yet if the principle of Seed Money is true, and I personally believe it is, then tight times are when we should get more systematic and mindful about our giving, even if the amount itself becomes smaller for a while.
Enter Giving Circles. Back in 2006 when the economy was giving signs of entering a major swoon, there were fewer than 400 known Giving Circles in the United States, mostly working quietly behind the scenes. As the economy continued to worsen, they became a trend in the making. By 2010, they had exploded in the US with an estimated 800 registered Giving Circles working vibrantly and vocally. These sometimes-small groups of people gathering in homes, restaurants, and coffee shops were pooling their money to give collectively, and in the process became a significant philanthropic force that had raised over $100 million to support every charitable cause imaginable.
Laurie Melstrom started her Giving Circle just as the stock market decided to jump from the plane with no parachute. "This economic downturn has a lot of people breaking out into a sweat," said the Cadillac, Michigan homemaker. "Yet everyone said, 'Count me in.’ Individually, the group's 10 or 12 prospective members can't make much difference, but together we'll be able to make the kind of donation that our small charities are really going to need in tough times."
That’s the beauty of a Giving Circle. According to Wikipedia, “Giving Circles are a form of philanthropy consisting of groups of individuals who pool their funds and other resources to donate to their communities, and seek to increase their awareness and engagement in the process of giving.” Sort of like an investing club or a book club for giving, each group typically has a theme or common cause such as children’s or women’s issues, poverty, or community organizations. Often the individual donations are small, yet when combined they can make a real difference.
And the receiving organizations are not the only beneficiaries. In co-creating a meaningful donation, the members receive multiple benefits of their own. In addition to enjoying the company of other joyful givers, they are igniting the principle of Seed Money in their own lives. Regardless of size, those gifts will come back, often in unexpected ways enabling them to give again. Maybe they'll even give more, which triggers even more receiving and more giving – after all, giving and receiving are the yin and yang of the same cycle - and that is the textbook definition of a Win – Win situation.
Giving Circles are a little idea that has learned to Live Large with meaningful benefits to all involved on both sides of the equation. Through collaborative generosity and connection to others, giving circles embody the philosophy “If we each do a little, together we can do a lot.”