Giving with No Strings Attached

Do you give with strings attached?  Have you ever been the recipient of such giving?  Giving or gifting with strings attached is demeaning both to the giver and to the receiver.  It is a power play–the giver wants to control the receiver’s behavior.

The commodity involved with giving is usually thought of as money or tangible goods.  However, it can also be love, attention, effort, etc.  For example, many people use love as a manipulative tool: I love you when you’re good (ie when you do what I want or act the way I want you to act), but I will withdraw my love when you are bad (ie when you don’t do what I want or act in a way I don’t like).  This often occurs between spouses, significant others, parents and children, and other close relationships.

The giving-with-strings-attached scenario usually goes something like this: Okay, I’ll give you X, but in return I expect Y from you.  That’s fine for a formal, contractual agreement or a gift for a specific purpose previously agreed upon by both sides such as college tuition for your child.  However, in more casual giving, it is the control freak’s agenda and is resented by the receiver.

Of course, the potential giver has the choice of not giving in the first place.  If you are asked to give and choose not to do so, just say “no” and go about your business.  You don’t have to turn your “no” into a lesson, admonition, or verbal manifesto.  However, if you do commit to give (just one time, for a longer period, for a lifetime), don’t use your promised gift as a power tool, cancelling it if you get mad or don’t get your way.  Keep your word or it will result in the recipient never trusting you again.

If your gift is unconditional, it will benefit both parties so much more than if it is retractable upon your whim.  If you give unconditionally to loved ones, the benefit you receive is knowing that you gave out of love or sincerity and not the quest for power.  The benefit the recipients get is the same.  They know you trust them to make decisions for themselves.  Their decisions may not be what you would have chosen, but you’ve shown respect for them which, in the long run, is the much more valuable message.

If you give to strangers (an organized charity, a homeless person on the street, etc.), behave the same.  Don’t admonish the street beggars that they must use your handout for food and not alcohol or drugs.  Treat them with respect they they can make their own decisions about  how to live their lives.  Maybe one day someone will give to you in your time of need. Wouldn’t you prefer it be on terms of love and/or respect rather than power and control?

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