On Giving

Ben H. Swett

Jesus said, "Give to every one who asks of you, asking nothing in return." He also said, "If you keep my commandments, you will learn the truth and the truth will set you free." Okay, let's test those two statements together. If you give to everyone who asks of you, expect nothing in return, and notice what happens next, you will soon have enough data to learn a truth about human beings: they don't all react the same way.

  • A few will see what you do, admire the generosity you represent, and decide to go and do likewise. This increases the number of generous people in the world.

  • Some will be grateful and want to thank you. They may honor you and praise you without trying to emulate your generosity, but "You are welcome; it is my pleasure," is always a gracious response to gratitude.

  • Most will want to repay you, either for the sake of their self-respect or because they interpret their feelings of gratitude as a form of pain. It is good to release them by suggesting they can repay you by giving to someone else: "Pass it on."

  • Some will take whatever you give and keep coming back for more. That is why, if you obey this commandment, you can expect to find yourself surrounded by an ever-increasing number of human parasites. They will beg and plead and cajole and promise to repay--anything to get what they want. If you allow them to do so, they will take everything you have, suck you dry, and then treat you with contempt. It is neither kind nor wise to let them get away with it.

  • A few will step over the line between parasites and predators; that is, from asking to demanding, from begging to coercing. If you ever refuse to give them what they want, they will hate you. They will try to justify themselves by saying you owe it to them. What they cannot get by begging, they will try to get by twisting any handle they can find--especially your desire to be a good person. What they cannot get by manipulation, they may try to steal or take by force.
This is the normal distribution of human reactions to a generous person. It is a statistical truth, verifiable by personal experience. Learning this truth can set us free from the notion that all human beings are alike, from compulsions that lead us to pamper parasites and predators, and from the weary cynicism that hardens our hearts and keeps us from giving at all.

Knowing that this distribution is normal--expectable--is a mental tool we can put into practice. It is good to give in secret because advertizing our generosity attracts more parasites and predators. We usually do not know in advance how a person will react, but where one is in this distribution will eventually be revealed to us by what he or she actually does. Thus, we need to be wise as well as kind, but kindness comes first and wisdom second. "Give to everyone who asks" comes first, because we do not know how one will react. Then after we see what that one does, we are free to decide what we will do. We are not required to continue giving to parasites or predators--that is neither kind nor wise--but we should not let our own reaction to them stop us from giving to those who react in more positive ways.