What is Gifting? :: Giving to Get

I read an article recently about a man who constantly gives of his time and expertise feeling that it is the key to his success. The person writing the article clearly thought the man was mad. How could he get anything done? The key according to Adam Grant is being efficient and organized about it. He takes zero time deciding if he should help or not and uses that time to help. Sounds pretty cool to me.

From childhood people always told me it doesn’t work that way. You can’t give away your opportunities, you have to compete, you need to win or you will lose. Never seemed right to me, just ignored it. But I’ve always had this sneaking suspicion perhaps they were right since I’m not exactly an entrepreneurial maven.

My impulse when I’m offered an opportunity is to call everyone I know who would be into it and invite them to do it too. I tend to follow that impulse even when I know it will make it harder for me to get the part, the job, the recognition. I don’t think I’m doing it for altruistic reasons, I think I’m just scared to go alone. I am also probably scared to succeed, but that’s another post altogether! I’m not sure if I’m a Giver, a Matcher or a Taker…you tell me what you think.

What struck me about Grant’s tome (heh) was the part about why people do things for others. Some do it to get something in return. That’s not gifting, that’s barter.

Grant’s book, incorporating several decades of social-science research on reciprocity, divides the world into three categories: givers, matchers and takers. Givers give without expectation of immediate gain; they never seem too busy to help, share credit actively and mentor generously. Matchers go through life with a master chit list in mind, giving when they can see how they will get something of equal value back and to people who they think can help them. And takers seek to come out ahead in every exchange; they manage up and are defensive about their turf. Most people surveyed fall into the matcher category — but givers, Grant says, are overrepresented at both ends of the spectrum of success: they are the doormats who go nowhere or burn out, and they are the stars whose giving motivates them or distinguishes them as leaders.

We’ve all seen the matchers at the burns, you have to give them something in order to get what they are gifting. Is that gifting? Not really. But it’s better than nothing! And it also protects them from the Takers who have no intention of contributing anything other than receiving a gift.

There are a lot of solutions to social problems that only work when you have mostly Givers. The suspended coffee concept for example, it’s amazing. But it wouldn’t work in a poor neighborhood where most of the people in the cafe can barely afford their own coffee. It works great in an affluent area where there are only a few homeless people and most of the customers have disposable income.

The amazing thing is you can actually get better at it.

Grant believes that in terms of giving, we all have the same muscle; it’s just that he and the other givers in his book have exercised it more. In “Give and Take,” he cites a study that found that most people lose physical strength after enduring a test of will, like resisting chocolate-chip cookies when they are hungry. Typically, the study’s subjects could squeeze a handgrip for only 25 seconds after an exercise in willpower. But one group distinguished itself, squeezing the grip for 35 seconds after the test of will. They were people who were on the giving end of the other-directedness scale. “By consistently overriding their selfish impulses in order to help others, they had strengthened their psychological muscles, to the point where using willpower for painful tasks was no longer exhausting,” writes Grant of the study, conducted by researchers at Northwestern University.  – Susan Dominus

This is a concept I am loving. The idea of it being a muscle you can strengthen is stellar. I have read the same thing about losing your temper. They suggested using your non-dominant hand to do daily tasks so that you are used to low level frustration and overcoming it. Then when larger frustrations come at you the set point for what boils you over is in a different place.

It also reminds me of a girlfriend in New York. She would give a dollar to anyone who asked her for spare change. She didn’t want to be in a position to be deciding who deserved and needed the money and who didn’t. And although she was working poor and barely making it herself she felt she was in a better position then they were and it was her duty to share what she had with those who had less. My solution was to not give money to anyone because they scared me and I was broke. But I still got coffee at Starbucks. The sticker ridden coffee cup I carry today came from a Starbucks in Manhattan in the late nineties. Now it’s a stainless monument to the Black Rock Rangers and the Critical Tits ride. I spent a good chunk of my student loan money on that mug, it was not cheap. I have lost it and it has always come back to me. To you it looks like a status symbol. To me it’s a reminder.

My point my friends, my fiends, is this. What are you giving? and what do you expect in return?

What do you get out of it? The giving or the receiving, both have value. A gift given with no one to receive it with love, respect, and gratitude is a sad gift indeed. The value is in the exchange.

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