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Giving Leads to Caring

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

What's the right attitude when they don't give back?

"You give, you care." It's a basic Jewish principle. While some may think the opposite is true, one look at the relationship between parents and children quickly clears things up. Since parents are the primary givers (the giving begins before the child is even born!), our love for our children is profoundly deeper than their love for us. (Note to Jewish mothers: guilt is not the same as love). Yes they love us; they may even express their caring through gratitude, the occasional phone call and the odd Hallmark card, but the basic equation is unequal.

All giving leads to caring. It's the way the Almighty created the world. It's a basic principle of reality. This can be viewed as a wonderful opportunity -- every time we give opens up the possibility of a new relationship. We invest ourselves in the lives of others and we become deeper and richer for it.

There is however a more cynical perspective, a damaging viewpoint we all struggle against. The more you give, the more you care, and the more you open yourself up to hurt.

While most healthy people don't give in order to receive, there is nevertheless an implicit expectation that the people we give to will respond in kind. And when they don't... we're only human. We're challenged to keep smiling, to not become bitter, to keep on giving.

There is a story told of a great rabbi who had a student who was cruel and abusive to him. Some years later this same young man approached the rabbi with a request for a job reference. Without batting an eyelash, the rabbi willingly complied.

I heard this story and I marveled: How could anyone be so selfless? And I was ashamed: I don't think I could have done that. And I was comforted: Since it's a famous story told in praise of this rabbi, this must be extraordinary behavior. It suggests behavior to aspire to. There's hope. I'm still growing. Maybe someday...

In the meantime I'm struggling with a dilemma. It's a scenario that's been played out many times before. Just the names of the characters have changed.

When you have an open house (as we do) and many guests (as we do), some of the guests become like members of the family. Not only do I give, I care, but my husbands gives (and cares) and my children give (and care). We open up our homes, our lives, our hearts. We counsel our guests/students/new found friends through relationships and marriages and parenting, through career crises and other life challenges.

We don't do this with expectation of a quid pro quo. But (and here comes the part that highlights the difference between me and the aforementioned rabbi), when they get married and don't invite us, when they have a party and we're not included, when they celebrate major life events or successes without us, I'm hurt. It's painful.

I don't give to them with any expectations (although my mother did teach me that it's polite to bring a gift when you're invited for dinner!) but because I've reached out to them, I care. Their cavalier attitude wounds.

Did I fool myself about the nature of the relationship? Probably. My guests are like children; as the recipients of kindness their emotional ties are weaker than those of the givers. My life's joys and struggles, challenges and celebrations mean less to them than theirs do to me. It's a principle of reality.

If I looked at all the wonderful people in my life as my children, I would be more forgiving.

And this analogy is helpful (although some of my guests may not like being compared to children!). Because my love for my children trumps all, I am willing to give to them, desirous to give to them, long past the point of rational thinking or logic. No matter how hurtful or ungrateful our children may be (someone else's children I mean!), we keep giving. It's instinctive. It's unstoppable. It's love. We give and give without concern for self unless we think it is destructive to them (and even then it's frequently hard to have the self-control to stop).

This is how the Almighty treats us. He gives and gives, He cares and cares. Yet we express very little gratitude in return, demand more and more and complain about what we don't receive and rarely invite Him in to our joyous occasions.

And just as our love for our children pushes us beyond the limits of our giving, so too should our love for all the Almighty's children, with the Almighty Himself setting the example.

If I looked at all the wonderful people in my life as my children, I would be more forgiving. I'd probably still get angry (I said that I'm still growing, right?), I'd probably still get hurt (after all, no one can wound you like your children!). But I'd be able to move beyond because my love for them and my desire – no, need to -- give to them are much stronger than any momentary hurt.

I was frustrated that these guests weren't giving back to me. It seems they were, just in an unconventional way. They were teaching me to dig deeper to express and develop my love for my people. And to be more open and conscious in my expression of gratitude to the Almighty. I guess I'll keep giving; I have so much more to learn.


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