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Give and Take

July 21, 2012

I keep reading about women who feel guilty about accepting help from friends. They’re worried about being a burden, and it’s nice that they care, but I think the wrong people are worried.

I have seen the relentless takers, and the bloggers I read don’t meet the standards.

I think life is better when we’re all helping each other out, especially if the give-and-take operates on a socialist model: to each according to her needs, from each according to her abilities. In practice, that involves a lot of paying it forward. The point is not to stay in someone’s good graces so that person will keep doing you favors. The point is to understand what you need and what you have to offer. The point is also to think about what other people need. (You don’t get to decide what they have to offer. They do.) Remember: you’re not offering because you expect a favor in the future. You’re offering because you are so grateful for the kindness others have already offered you.

There is a world of difference between: “Let’s carpool! I’ll do pick-up!” and “Would it help if we carpooled, or is drop-off the problem for both of us?”

When you’re thinking about what would make your life easier, are you thinking about things you could do (be more organized, procrastinate less), things that will happen eventually (kids potty trained, kids in school), things you could hire people to do (find a cleaning or a grocery delivery service), or things other people could do for you (take your kids more often, give you another job)? If your reaction to other people’s plans is usually “What about MY needs?” you’re a taker. If something goes wrong and you think, “Ugh. What I am going to do now?” you can feel reassured by your impulse to fix it yourself. That doesn’t mean you have to fix it yourself every time.  Self-reliance is an admirable goal, but an unattainable one.

When someone does something nice for you, do you feel lucky to have such kind people in your life, or do you think about what more they could have done? When I was first out of college, I planned a trip to England, where I spent my junior year. I wrote to a friend from my college there, and he told me where to call him during my visit. I was miffed: He wasn’t going to meet my plane? And then I realized that the guy was offering to entertain me for a couple of days and I was being an ungrateful jerk. Similarly, but more recently, an acquaintance complained about friends who had offered her kid a ticket to something pretty rare and very fun. The friend’s response was not gratitude, but resentment: She wanted to know why one of the parents couldn’t give up a ticket so she or her husband could go along.

If you’re that person, you need to get a grip. If you’re not, let someone pick something up for you on her next trip to Target. You’re not a burden.

One Comment
  1. July 21, 2012 7:32 pm

    Oh, this is SO interesting to read! I feel like I am going to be mulling this over for a long time!

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