Written: 12/24/2003

I have a bumper sticker on my car. It says, “Livin’ is Givin'”. Along with the other sentiments represented on my car, the givin’ sentiment has significance for me. It represents some learning that I have claimed as me. The holiday season is known as the season of giving. Giving is important to me. But, not all giving is good.

Bumper sticker wisdom sounds simple enough but it’s not. Giving can also be hurtful. It can be callous, self-serving, manipulative, vindictive, or simply oblivious. Livin’ is oftentimes all those hurtful things. I want something else. Livin’ is motion, change, seeking, and choices. I choose active, positive, purposeful, conscious livin’ experienced through daily givin’.

The prison where I volunteered offers training called Moral Recognition Therapy. It’s good. It clearly explains how to recognize the level of “morality” (i.e. loving kindness) in our different responses to others and it presents stages people go through from a low moral response to the highest moral response called “Grace.” I like this non-religious definition of “grace.”” It is seeing oneself as an extension of others. Reaching grace means one must give one’s self to a major cause. In this stage, a person’s identify fuses with others. In other words, grace is the ultimate “livin’ is givin'” mode because you “give” yourself to goodness and loving in action.

To reach this level, you can’t make foolish choices in the practical matters of life. In fact, in order to operate on an extended basis in this mode, you MUST manage your resources extremely wisely in order to be able to maintain this ultimate “livin’ is givin'” mode. All parts of the puzzle are fit tightly together to make the beautiful picture. Giving is complicated and important. It is important to my sense of purpose (i.e. the picture produced by the puzzle-maker). I don’t see myself as being here to only take up space on this planet and therefore simply to use up its resources. I don’t see myself as simply needing to make my presence known. Rather, I feel that I want to use my capabilities to move something forward, to improve something, to make a difference. Thus, livin’ is givin’ to my cause.

Yet, giving is complicated. To understand it, I need to break it down into pieces smaller and smaller. Smaller and smaller until they are bite size. See size. Heart size. Clear size. Understand it size. Can I do that by saying what givin’ is rather than what it is NOT? I don’t know. I’d like to attempt that approach.

Here are my thoughts about when givin’ is good:

  • The person receiving the gift feels felt. When we receive a gift, we not only receive the thing, we receive the feelings and intentions associated with the gift.
    • Does your gift show me that you know me? If the receiver thinks that you should know them but you still don’t, then your gift can hurt.
    • Can the receiver see themselves anywhere in this gift, or is it all about the giver? If the relationship isn’t good, a gift won’t fix that.
    • Did the receiver receive the gift because the calendar says that a gift should arrive now? And, the return gift should be on its way too, right? Why exactly are we doing this giving?
  • The giving is about the person rather than the thing.
    • Will the giver quiz the receiver on what they do with what has been given?
    • Does the receiver feel burdened by the thing?
  • No response to the gift is expected.
    • The purest gift comes with no expectations at all.
    • Will the giver be measuring the response to this thing being given?
  • The cost is irrelevant.
    • Gifts that do not involve money can be the purest.
    • Did the giver overburden themselves by giving this gift?
    • Even when the gift is a thing, the best part of the gift is when each person knows that they have received a personal part of the other. They know that the gift reflects how the giver feels about the ”us” and that “we’ve” moved forward because of this exchange.

I suppose that covers most of it. Giving is what I do every day, including during the holidays. I am saddened by all the unhealthy giving I see during the holidays. It seems better to stay away from all that. It is best to not give at all in some cases. My holiday giving doesn’t look a whole lot different from the regular giving I do every day…

I don’t get it right all the time but I do care about working to get it right.



  1. 최다해 gongjumonica says :

    Nice post. I agree with you that giving isn’t very necessary during the holidays and I feel sick sometimes when merchants use this for their own benefit. We can give and help each other in any time – it doesn’t need a holiday or a season to do so. Yes, giving someone a present means you care for this person and you are showing your appreciation for his/her existence in your life, but you must be able to mean it. Giving a present just for the sake of having something to give is a definite no no.

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