Monday, July 25, 2011

Are You a Giver or a Taker?

[Ed.’s Note: I’m going to only go with three posts this week—Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  I have an exciting new idea for the Tuesday post, but, quite frankly, not enough time to implement it for tomorrow, so hopefully by next Tuesday you’ll be able to see what comes of it.  Enjoy! –D.J.]

I like to boil things down to absolutes on this site.  In that way, it mirrors life quite nicely.  Everything is either good or evil, black or white, with us, or against us.

All kidding aside, there is one area that is actually pretty “zero-sum.”

Are you a net giver?

Or are you a net taker?

Givers think of other people before themselves.  They try to give more to society than they take from it.  Givers are the types of people that bring far more beer to parties than they intend on using, and that are there to bail out their buddies in a pinch.  Givers clean up after themselves, and value not only their own stuff, but that of other people.  But perhaps most importantly, givers help friends and family through tough times with prudent, well-thought-out advice.  Basically, givers want to leave a situation better-off than they entered it. 

Unfortunately, America seems to be on a course toward a society with more takers.  Takers are shitty houseguests that come over, eat all of your shit, and leave.  Oh, they maybe bring a sixer over every now and then, but if they do so, they act like they’ve given you a million dollars, and will loudly proclaim that “they just brought beer over!” for the next month.  Takers are like the aliens in Independence Day, moving from planet-to-planet, strip-mining each stop for all of the resources they can fit in their ships before moving on.  Takers always ask, to quote The Departed, ”What can I use ya’ for?”, using friendship as a springboard to get something out of you that they need, be it business or “borrowing” a lawnmower, or something else entirely.

I’ve always tried to live my life as a giver, though I’m sure I’m oblivious to the ways in which I can be a taker at times.  I suppose the question then becomes “how can I ensure that I’m a net giver as opposed to a taker?”  I think it comes down to several small things.

First, live by the Golden Rule.  I’m not a religious man, but this simple saying transcends religion, an easy phrase that embodies the concept of empathy.  “Do unto others as you would want to be treated.”  It’s not that tough—just do it.

Second, get used to offering things without expecting anything in return.  This is an incredibly foreign concept to a lot of people, but it’s absolutely one that people in America need to get used to.  Are you that guy’s friend because you’re trying to get business from his company, or because you legitimately enjoy his friendship?  Do you bring over food to a party because it’s expected, or because it’s “the right thing to do?”  Stop making a tally of all of the times you’ve done things for others and let go of the “you owe me” mentality.  There’s also a difference between not expecting anything in return and becoming a doormat.  The first is done out of generosity, the second, out of fear.

Finally, go above and beyond the call of duty.  Find ways to provide more value in your current position than you are tasked with doing.  If you find yourself in a position where you don’t regularly find yourself doing so, or have tried to do so only to be met with resistance, it may be time to find a new position.  But more generally, get a little bit more food for a party than you actually think you need.  If someone asks you for a favor, don’t just half-ass it, but think what they might want a step or two down the line.  Really put your all into everything that you do, and you’ll end up contributing more to your friends, family, and society than you take away, and you’ll find that generosity and helping others will get you far more goodwill than the alternative.

D.J. Gelner is a writer and entrepreneur in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

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