Tag Archives: generosity

How to stop valuing relationships and make them gifts

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Economics is everywhere — we talk about the ‘value’ of relationships. If a friend gives us a gift, for the sheer joy of it, not because it’s a birthday, we begin to wonder if we ‘owe’ them something or feel uneasy about being ‘indebted’.

Transactions have run riot to such an extent that even children in nurseries find that ‘value added’ is the criterion measuring their education.

We hear people who are in love saying they don’t feel ‘worthy’ of the other person. When you are asking ‘Do I deserve this person’s love?’ there is no answer that makes sense because the whole question arises in an economic mindset. But that’s the wrong paradigm for relationships.

An overwhelming amount of relationships are transactional. Not only those that are set up as bald economic deals, but from work to marriages. Transactional relationships are all about self-interest and what you get. If conflicts arise, the goal is to win, not to resolve. In transactional relationships what matters are outcomes, not emotions; systems, not people.

Transactional relationships have been important throughout history in encouraging cooperation, whether between bartering individuals or nations. There is a place for transactional relationships, but ultimately they only work if the receiver will return the favours. They are quid pro quo.

And not only are they economic-based, but they are also scarcity-based. Transactions and fear are frequent partners.

  • Let’s make a treaty with that tribe so they don’t come in and destroy us.
  • Let’s do favours for these people because then they’ll be in our debt when we need something.

In a transactional relationship unconditional generosity is a scarce resource. We may not use money (unless it’s about buying a product or paying for someone’s time) but there will be trade and bartering taking place and a jostling to ensure that we get ‘good value’ for what we give. Transactional relationships involve:

  • competition
  • manipulation
  • negotiation
  • keeping a tally
  • winners and losers

Deep, meaningful relationships need another basis. They need a mindset of trust and abundance. These kinds of relationship are not transactional, but transformational. They don’t fizzle out when there is nothing to be ‘gained’. They go on energising because the power of collaboration changes people; together they can address intrinsic needs.

In transformational relationships there is a shared purpose. The relationship itself becomes the focus rather than competing egos. So why do we experience so few transformational relationships? And how can we shift from the economic model of transaction to the ecology of relationships as gifts?

Shift to an abundance mindset

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If we want have amazing relationships we have to be givers. What stops most people from being generous is not intrinsic meanness, but fear. People are afraid that if they give, others will exploit this and ‘take advantage’ (more economic thinking).

And it’s true, this can happen and it’s rife in many workplace settings. The people at the bottom often make the most value for a company and only to gain least.

And in personal relationships there are people who will see giving as a weakness that they are more than happy to use and abuse.

But despite this, generosity isn’t something that runs out. Generosity is something that multiplies with use, not diminishes.

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Who are you? Writing virtues into the writing life

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‘Virtue’ is a word we don’t hear a great deal. There’s an anachronistic ring to it. It can also sound smug. A problem with over-focussing on self-improvement is that it can make us seem remote, self-satisfied and self-centred. An irony if we’re setting out to be kinder or more patient. We become rather like Fitzgerald’s Gatsby:

Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.

In Cultivating Virtue, philosopher Christine Swanton suggests that instead of cultivating ourselves, we concentrate on doing virtuous actions. The first step toward virtue is to act as if you have that quality. We then hope that through feedback and reflection, growth follows without self-obsessing. Or as Aristotle puts it:

(Wo)men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a particular way… you become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions.

Who we are is fluid. We don’t come written in stone. Humans are adaptable. The environment we live in makes a huge difference, as do the choices we make. There are things we have little or no influence over in life, but we have the capacity to change, to become the person we want to be.

One of the joys of being a storyteller is that it’s not only about fiction. I can also write myself. But it has to go further than narrativising — my journal is a good place to plan and reflect, but it also has to translate into action. …

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With this in mind, at New Year I invested in a tiny book. And I set about a long journalling exercise around what 13 virtues or qualities I should action this year. Why thirteen?

Because I’d read an article about Benjamin Franklin who chose 13 virtues and focussed on one each week. Choosing 13 meant that each quality would get four weeks of attention over the year. That seemed feasible. And I like the idea of revisiting each quality whilst not obsessing about one or two things constantly.

A ‘year’ of course can start at any point, so if it appeals, you can begin at any time.

Thirteen qualities for the year

These are the 13 virtues or qualities that emerged for me over several journalling sessions:

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How to be a giver, not a sacrificer

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Being someone who makes sacrifices is often held up as a virtue. But whether we’re trying to form creative, autonomy-respecting relationships with your children or relating to adults in different areas of life, ‘giving in’ is not a solution. Giving and ‘giving in’ are not the same thing.

This year in my journalling, each week I’ve been focussing on a different quality that I’d like to encourage in myself. I’ve got thirteen to think about over the year, so each quality will get four weeks of attention.

But the quality I return to most often and which seems to me to be the most fundamental is generosity. I’m not talking about having pots of money to give away, though that might be a factor for some, but something deeper. We can be generous whether we are wealthy or in financial poverty. The point is that giving, whether it’s of time, skills or resources is a key virtue.

But if we’re always giving, doesn’t this lead to always self-sacrificing? …

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You can always reinvent yourself for the better

Resistance is the secret of joy
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Alice Walker’s protagonist, Tashi, declares this towards the end of the novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy. There’s something to be said for being able to withstand hard times, keeping going and remaining determinedly consistent, whether in a writing project or in life. I’ve always had a high tolerance for routine and stubbornly putting one foot in front of the other. My childhood led to me becoming a stoic with a work ethic that has told me to ‘get on with it’. And I’ve sometimes had to reinvent myself when circumstances closed doors unexpectedly.
 
But along the way I’ve also learned that it’s not all about resistance and stoically getting on with things. Five things in particular have made a huge difference to being able to keep going when things got overwhelming. We can always reinvent ourselves for the better and doing this has been key to every transformation I’ve made.
 

1. Reach out to others

 
I was raised to do things myself and not to ask for help. But when the press I founded hit a funding crisis a few years ago I learned that reaching out, for ideas and for practical support, is a much better solution. It sounds obvious, but asking for help is one of the most profound things I’ve learned to do as an adult.
 
In the film About a Boy (from the novel by Nick Hornby) the summing up is that we need people. We are not islands, as John Donne noted, and if we behave like we need no one we’ll soon find we have no one. Both writing and life require collaboration. And the more generous that collaboration is, the more support and inspiration everyone involved will experience.
 

2. Be generous

 
When we live as though resources (whether material or emotional) are in short supply, it’s likely to become true. The converse is also the case. Generosity is vital to living abundantly and there are so many ways to be generous, with our time, with our attention, with our skills … the list is endless.
 
When we give, it changes us. When we act like love, kindness and time are not about to run out forever, we become different people, we are telling a different story about ourselves.
 
 

3. Take time out to discover your passion

 
Earlier in 2017 I was lucky to experience the amazing benefits of travel and deep, focussed writing time for a whole month in Budapest. It was a life-changing month. I returned with a persistent voice in my head that now insists there is always an alternative way to achieve your passions. Listening to that voice has been terrifying at times. It’s telling me I need to take more time for my own writing and that this can be as good for Cinnamon Press as it is for me; making the press tighter, more focussed, more excellent whilst not consuming all of my time.
 
My passions are writing and travel. I love Cinnamon Press and the work I do with authors, but I know I have to make the two things work together to stay true to myself.
 

4. Invest in yourself

 
So many of us have been taught to put ourselves last. Egoism isn’t pretty and I’m not advising it, but investing in our skills; using time for self-development and education instead of Internet surfing and mass entertainment enables us to hone skills and reflect on values. In 2018 I’m giving a big chunk of time to my writing skills and to making goals happen. It’s part of a long journey and you can read more about it in this blog by Benjamin P Hardy on Huffpost.
 

5. Dig Deeper

As we approach 2018, what’s your inner voice telling you? If it’s telling you to keep quiet and put up with being overwhelmed, overworked or miserable, don’t listen. Dig deeper, find your passion and go for it. Don’t let your life be run for you and don’t listen to anything that whispers that your creative passions are self-indulgent. The more creative you are and the more you do what you love the more you will have to give to the world.
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