Why Wouldn’t You Give? Part 3

Okay, one more post about this, then I’ll go back to talking about cats, pet peeves, and how oxygen masks should be available in every workplace.

How does reciprocation affect your decision to give or not to give? When you give to someone’s 5k for the cure, do  you expect for them to return the favor in the future? If someone has given to you in the past, are you more likely to give as well?

For me, the answer about expectations is largely no, I don’t expect reciprocity, especially not when money is in play. I mean, if we’re all just giving each other $25, we’re all breaking even.

However, it is nice when someone finds a different way to give back. If I give you $50 for your cause, it would be great in the future if you’d comment on my blog or share it with someone else. That’s currency to me.

Reciprocity gets really interesting when money isn’t involved at all. Here’s a little story to end this series. I’m curious what you think. I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve noticed a trend among artists (in all forms of the arts): Artists are self-centered. We think what we’re doing is important and special and unique. That’s why we keep doing it. To a certain extent I think that’s okay, but we need to rein it in when we’re talking to other artists. I’ve had conversations with artists when I feel sucked dry by the consuming vortex that is their passion. Nothing else exists or matters by their art. And I think that’s really unfortunate, because us active creative types have a lot to learn from each other.

Anyway, I once had an artist friend who I’ll call Jaswanda (apologies to all the Jaswandas out there! Say hi to your mothers for me!). When we were first getting to know each other, I was writing a novella, and Jaswanda asked to read it when I was finished. So a few months later after finishing the work and circulating it among friends, it ended up in Jaswanda’s hands.

A week or two passed and I didn’t hear anything from her, and I forgot she had the novella. In fact, a year passed, and then I got a mass e-mail from Jaswanda inviting me to a performance art show that she was creating.

Now, I’m not a fan of performance art. To me, it is the NASCAR of sports–is it really art, or did you just convince me to watch you drive in circles for three hours? To me it screams, “Look at me! Please, someone–anyone–pay attention to meeee!”

That said, under normal circumstances, I would support a friend by showing up for his or her art show even if I don’t care about the art. I’ve done this many times, and I’ll do it many times in the future.

But when I got the invitation, I couldn’t help but remember that Jaswanda had never read my novella. If she wasn’t willing to spend an hour reading something that had taken me many hours to write, why should I feel obligated as a friend to support her work?

So I didn’t go. A few days after the show, which apparently consisted of her taking of many of her clothes, hanging them on a clothes line, burning money, and then rolling around in the ashes (I couldn’t make that up), I got an irate e-mail from her saying how disappointed she was that I hadn’t support her show despite all the work she put into it.

I wouldn’t have said anything about the novel had I not gotten that e-mail (although maybe I should have a long time before it), but when I heard that, I simply replied, “Did you ever read the novella that I spent a ton of time writing, revising, and refining?”

Of course the answer was no. She went on to say that it wasn’t fair for me to compare the two, that her art took a whole different level of commitment than my writing, and that I should have attended her show regardless of whether or not she read the novella.

Maybe she was right about the last part. Friendship isn’t pure give and take. But it’s also not a one way street, especially when passions are involved. Jaswanda had demonstrated that she didn’t want to spend the time patronizing my art, and yet she expected me to appreciate hers. She couldn’t see beyond the importance of her own art.

What do you think? How does reciprocity play into your decision to give, especially to a friend or family member?

7 thoughts on “Why Wouldn’t You Give? Part 3”

  1. It must seasonal. I heard a raido show yesterday about tithing and the obligation of giving. I also just made my 2012 United Way commitment through work. Does that mean next month you’re going to talk about Insurance during my Open-erollment period?
    On Artists: I think that artists’ distance from the everyday world is what allows them to create anything out of the ordinary. If an artist looks for fulfillment through acceptance/patronage by an audience, that will eventually come down to whether what they produce resonates with their audiences. I think you’re in that boat too, but for the most part, I can deal with your ratio of resonance vs. crazy is pretty acceptable.
    On Reciprocation: Yes,it seems only natural to me that I am more likely to support someone who has supported me. Moreso (as I read from your Guidelines for giving) if they are passionate about it, and moreso if it what they are doing seems to make an impact in the issue/problem.
    On Causes: Some Causes also resonate with people on an individual level. Last Saturday, there was an Eating Disorders awareness walk. The person who contacted me was not someone I would consider giving to. But they were putting together a team to represent a very close mutual friend who passed away because (being annorexic) she deneyed her body the nutrients it needed to continue. So I gave money beyond the request, and I walked that measly mile loop in downtown Webster. I didn’t see the cause as helping the person who called me, but in memory of someone who was lost that I would absolutely have done it for. So really, I gave for me.

    • Totally off topic: Do we work for the same company, or do a lot of them do United Way drives in September and open enrollment in October? Did you guys do any other UW fundraisers to supplement employee contributions??

    • Maybe in reality all that we give should be for ourselves: what makes us feel good, what supports our ‘inner truth’. Yum, giving for a selfish reason- for me? Thanks Red for these thoughts.

      • That line stood out to me as well–I think it’s neat that you gave for you (but didn’t expect anyone else to give for you). I think sometimes we get those things mixed up.

  2. I think these are two different issues. When I donate to someone, friend or stranger, I don’t expect any sort of reciprocity just a “thank you.” This is especially true since I don’t have any causes of my own that I could even ask someone to reciprocally donate to (sad but true, I would die running a marathon). However, that’s a different issue than the one posed in the example with your artist friend. Friendships are supposed to be give and take, I totally agree that they’re not one-way-streets. Unlike an act of charity between a donor and donee (whether or not they’re friends), a friendship is a relationship that’s supposed to be mutually beneficial.

  3. I’ve liked this 3-part series, but I think you’re missing something when you say “if we’re all just giving each other $25, we’re all breaking even.”

    The timing of the back-and-forth giving can be more important than the fact that it all evens out in the end. Two cool examples:

    – In parts of Cambodia, when a couple gets married all of their friends and family members give them cash as a gift. The newlyweds spend their wedding night carefully filling out a ledger with the names and amounts they got, right down to the last penny. Aside from ensuring the most G-rated wedding night in the world, the ledger is something they refer back to like an account of their “debt.” When they get established as a couple and a little more prosperous, they pay back the exact amount of the gift to each person at opportune times that will help the recipient the most (i.e. another wedding, a death in the family, a poor harvest season).

    – The Horatio Alger Association has a scholarship fund(https://www.horatioalger.org/scholarships/) for high school students who’ve overcome amazing obstacles in their lives. The idea is that if you invest in resilient, talented young people, they will flourish into successful, talented adults. It works. Most of them go on to great careers, and a lot of them later donate right back into Horatio Alger (as much or more than the original scholarship) so that other kids can have the same chance they did.

    So yes, it evens out in the end, but the route that the money takes along the way makes all the difference.

    • Sarah–Thanks for your insightful response. That’s really fascinating about Cambodian weddings, and a fair point about the timing of gifts.

      Lately I’ve been thinking about a similar concept to Horatio Alger, but treating the gifts as actual investments that pay dividends over time. I’ll discuss the idea in today’s blog entry.


Leave a Reply

Discover more from jameystegmaier.com

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading