Top Up the Tank

`You give but little when you give of your possessions.It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.'So said Kahlil Gibran. He lists three types of giver- the one who gives to get praise, the one who givesfor the pleasure of giving and, finally, the naturalgiver who can do nothing but give, is generous witheverything and genuinely asks nothing in return.

I definitely belong in the second category as I haveso much fun buying presents and doing things for people,it's just as much for me as the recipients. Most ofus classify ourselves as givers or takers, yet the truthlies somewhere in the middle. For example, think aboutyour friends - are they all giving in the same way,and are the takers all completely selfish?

I have one friend who is fabulous with gifts, praise,attention and suchlike, but don't expect her to cometo your aid in times of trouble. Another is the completereverse - she routinely forgets my birthday, is totallyunsentimental, yet is the first one I'll go to whenI need help of any kind. What I'm basically saying isthat each of us gives in our own unique way.

Is it better to give or receive? Is it better to bea giver or a taker? How much giving is too much?

I once was told by an adviser that as a giver, I couldnever be a taker but needed to learn how to receive.A lovely distinction. Givers find it harder to be givento than takers to give, I think. Let's talk about thesetwo profiles for a bit.

Givers are very often the first child of a family, broughtup to believe that they are responsible for others.As adults, they're always the first to volunteer whenhelp is needed. The problem is that it can become compulsiveand dangerously attached to self value. I give, thereforeI am a worthy human being. It's also a difficult thingto switch off. Giving can become overpowering to othersand exhausting to the giver.

Takers are likely to be the third child in the familytotem pole, the most indulged one, for whom life slidesalong a much easier path. Taking then becomes secondnature, automatic. It's not designed to be self serving,necessarily. It can be totally unselfconscious. Themore predatory type of taker, of course, is a differentanimal, often the second child, insecure and needy.Unwilling to risk rejection or trust love/friendship,the taker takes as a form of self protection and fulfilment.

It never occurs to the giver that they could be doinganything wrong. I speak from personal experience. Ithought I was being a terrific person because I gaveand gave til it hurt. My motives were not as pure asI thought they were at the conscious level. Under thesurface, I was longing for recognition and praise. Lookat me, look at how hard I'm trying, look at how muchI sacrifice, how much I do for you. Unfortunately, whenyou're a giver, you naturally attract takers, and takersdon't tend to appreciate or reciprocate. This, in turn,grew into resentment, anger and even bitterness. I simplycouldn't understand the lack of awareness in my friendsand family members to whom I was showering all thisattention. I exhausted myself, then when no one noticedor seemed to care, I would fall into a great crevasseof self pity. Why was no one there when I finally needhelp? I would ask myself. It was a very unhealthy andfrustrating cycle which continued for many years.

I finally broke out of this pattern when I realisedthat I was just hurting myself by giving too much, andfor all the wrong reasons. I was just seeking approval.Yes, I was the eldest child, and yes, I was broughtup to believe that it's better to give than to receive,and yes again, I felt that my self esteem was tied directlyto the level of my giving. I know better now. I knowthat receiving is such a blessing, an act of love betweenthe giver and the receiver. What turned it around forme was a wonderful analogy offered by a colleague. Sheasked me to imagine myself as a rainwater tank. If Iwere to keep emptying out the water contained in me,in other words, endlessly giving, I would eventuallydeplete myself and run totally dry. If, on the otherhand, I were to keep refilling myself instead, and replenishingmy supply, I would overflow with abundance and it isthe overflow that I can share with others.

So, indirectly, I actually end up with far more togive by taking care of myself first. When I was oneof those who give with pain, I was always feeling drained.Now, I give in this new way, with love. I don't giveanything that doesn't bring me joy and, surprisingly,that's very little. I don't divide my day into compartmentsof what I like to do and what I have to do. I just doeverything in the right spirit and it never feels likea burden.

Giving doesn't only involve gifts and actual things.There's also time, advice, listening, company, laughter,outings, family interaction, conversation, love, caring,empathy, financial aid - the list is endless. The problemwith the concept of giving is that we often don't waitto be asked. We tend to assume that we know what othersneed. So, we turn up with casseroles without askingif the recipient knows how to cook, we offer advicefreely without any prompting, we insist on helping,we take over, take control, disempower the receiver- all in the name of giving.

Not only is this disrespectful, but it also allowsno room for the receiver to reciprocate. Giving outconstantly is also pushing out, creating a space betweenthe two people involved. Receiving in the right spirit,that is not out of greed or a taking attitude, is agraceful art. A good example of this is when peopleinsist on a "no gift" rule at a social occasion.Again, they think they're being generous, but in fact,it's a form of control, as is much of giving itself.By giving only and refusing to receive, we're denyingothers the gift of giving to us! Isn't that ironic?The ideal is to give and receive in equal measure, asfar as possible. In my view, it's preferable to be anunapologetic taker than a giver who really just wantsa pat on the back and gratitude. The silent giver, theone who has no agenda, and requires no reward - thatis the kind we should strive to be. Giving is then indeeda beautiful thing.

How then can we ensure that our rainwater tanks don'trun dry? Self love is the key. All the things we mightbe tempted to foist onto others can be directed moreappropriately to ourselves. When we love ourselves,we make sure we surround ourselves with positive relationships,have rewarding work, a comfortable home, a reliablecar, we manage our money wisely, take care of our bodies,eat well, laugh, play and rest a lot, minimise stress,share love. Most importantly, we feed ourselves physically,emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.

This is the time of year when we look back over thepast 12 months and plan for the future. It's traditionallya time for giving and sharing. Let us, then, reviewour notion of what this means. Instead of expensivegifts this Christmas, perhaps we could just offer friendshipand love and laughter and the sharing of food, to cometogether for no more than the joy of giving and receiving.