The other day I was reading some discussion about the nature of human psychology and the state of the world. Someone pointed out that we know the central dilemma. The world would be a far better place if we all gave more than we took. But how to achieve that.
One way it won’t be achieved is to say that we should give more than we take. The problem with “shoulds” is that they come across as a criticism of how we are now. Criticism tends to undermine self-acceptance. “Shoulds” are liable to make us either defensive or guilty. A lot of psychological responses have this characteristic that they can take an active or passive form. When we are defensive, we are actively fighting back against the criticism. When we feel guilty, we are passively accepting the criticism and feeling worse about ourselves as a result. But what both of these responses have in common is that they sap us of energy and they direct our attention towards our self. Guilt leads to navel-gazing and defensiveness means adding bricks to the walls of our ego castle.
The reason for giving more than we take is to ease our troubles and maximise our bliss.
It’s all a question of economies of scale. What do we give or take? Capital (money and material resources), labour, time, attention… These things are not like a pile of apples where the benefit they confer remains the same and it is only a question of how that benefit is distributed. We often use the expression “two can live as cheaply as one” to acknowledge that resources shared can do more.
If we all give more than we take within a community in which benefits flow fairly smoothly to all, then we will gain more than we lose, because what each person gives will often have a multiplier effect where it is of benefit to a number of people rather than one person.
Let’s look at an example. We all have a certain amount of money and time to create a garden. We could all create our own private garden in our back yard. Or we could put the same amount of money and time into a group activity to create a public garden. In our private garden we would be able to sit quietly in the evenings reading the newspaper. But the public garden would be bigger and more beautiful and it would be a place in which we could walk our dogs, socialise with others, play games… A place where single people might meet their future partner and old lonely people might be able to enjoy being amongst people of all ages and seeing the children play.
If we are going to try to cultivate this as a way of operating in the world, what should motivate us is not a vision of ourselves giving, but a vision of everybody else giving to us. Our giving is a small price to pay for that.
What this approach requires is faith. We need to believe that “casting our bread upon the waters” will not be in vain. But there is nothing to stop us investing in some little miracles and working our way up to believing that the big one of healing the world is possible.