Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Giving and Receiving as Counterparts of Generosity

Giving is considered intrinsic to generosity–be it the giving of money, time, understanding, or acts of kindness.

Receiving, on the other hand, is usually simply seen as getting something.

A closer look at giving and receiving from an interpersonal perspective invites us to consider that “ giving and receiving” are not separate events. They are counterparts that are inextricably connected.  There really is no true giving without receiving and no receiving without giving.

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St. Francis tells us “ To give is to receive.” We might also consider “ To receive is to give.”

What does this mean?

Giving and receiving are counterparts because there is shared generosity and joy in the mutually shared moment of exchange.

That doesn’t mean equal gifts or equal efforts. It just means that when the offering – be it a gift, a feeling, a compliment, a newly painted room or a meal is embraced and received in a way that sends back a gift of delight, joy, gratitude or appreciation- the exchange is mutual. A gift has been given and received by both.

What Makes a Mutual Exchange Possible?

The way that we give and the way that we receive bear on the feelings of mutuality and generosity shared.

Two strategies that can enhance the way we give and receive are self-reflection, the consideration of self, and empathy, the consideration of the other.

Consider taking a closer look at yourself as giver and receiver.

Do You Give In A Way That Makes Receiving Easy?

  • Can you give without expectation? – Is it still a gift even if there is no thank you?
  • Do you get so excited by your gift that you forget the other’s need? –

Consider the generous CEO who shipped computers to a remote school without Internet capacity.

  • Can you give of yourself in a way that may take more time but mean much more – like the gift of a weekly movie night with Grandma instead of another sweater?
  • Must you give the most or the best?
  • Can you give what the other wants rather than what you want  – like her wish for the dinner for two rather than the surprise party for 40?
  • Can you give without strings – is the gift free of your entitlement to control or dictate its use?
  • Can you allow the other to join you in planning or picking his/her gift?

The manner of giving is worth more than the gift. (Pierre Corneille)

 Do You Receive in a Way that Makes Giving Possible?

  • Are you so selfless that you are unable or unwilling to receive gifts? – This may make you untouchable and others feel ineffective.
  • Are you able to appreciate the giver’s intent such that the reality of the actual gift doesn’t matter?

 One woman in her seventies remembers with a smile the tiny sequined red dress her husband gave her for A formal Christmas Party four weeks after the birth of their first child. Managing to squeeze into this dress was almost as difficult as giving birth, not to mention the question of how flattering it could possibly have been! For her, the look on his face was the gift she carried for a lifetime.

  • Can you accept the gift in the moment it is given without presuming it comes with historical expectations of control or payback?
  • Can you help the giver offer you what you can receive?

 When mental health workers arrived in villages in Japan after the Tsunami and began asking how people felt – The villagers handed them shovels!

  • Can you receive a compliment as a gift without correcting or invalidating the giver?
  • Can you receive with empathy for the giver? 
  • Accepting Aunt Grace’s cheeseboard each year validates her wish to be a giver in the only way she can.
  • Can you welcome help as generosity rather than implication of dependency or need?

God has given us two hands, one to receive with and the other to give with. (Billy Graham)

When Giving and Receiving Are Both Easy

If we are human, we will never quite master the ease of giving or receiving. But the effort to understand and give to another and the effort to receive and trust what is offered are at the heart of our human connection.