’Tis the season to be giving… with no expectation of return

Christmas, and the topic of giving without the expectation of return, hardly needs an introduction. This topic has featured in all of our kids’ classes this term. 

Our littlest superheroes

Our Tiny Tumblers and Ninja Kids have been learning about giving, as an understanding of the definition of sharing. People commonly say “sharing is caring”, perhaps because it sounds nice, and is usually said when we want our kids to share their toys with their friends or siblings. However, we teach that sharing is more than caring: Sharing is giving.

This means taking actions to share. The distinction is that we can show care without taking action. For example, we might care that others do not have food to eat while we do, but that does not mean that we are going to share our food or give them food. If we take action to show our care, by giving, then we have the superhero definition of sharing: sharing is giving.

We teach the kids that they can share their things (toys, games), their words (please, thank you, I love you, I’m sorry), and their help (with friends, pets, chores at home).

Our Superkids

Our Superkids group have also been talking about Super Action. One of the actions that superheroes take is giving with no expectation of return. This means giving something without expecting something back, and helping others without expecting anything for helping. We give, whether it is our time, our friendship, our help, our money, or gifts, because giving itself is good. Acts of giving are things we do to help people purely because we want to help, and these are the acts that will change the world. People can give their time, their help, their concern, a listening ear, patience – the list is endless. Almost any act of kindness can be a giving act. 

Accepting gifts is also a form of giving

When we first wrote about this topic a few years ago, we talked about giving consideration to the way we receive gifts as well. We want to be mindful of not taking the joy out of giving in the way that we receive. For example, if we receive a gift with apprehension, such as saying “You shouldn’t have!”, or by feeling obligated to reciprocate somehow, we are saying with our response that a gift does come with conditions or expectations, even if that was not how it was intended. This can unintentionally impose the feeling that giving is a transaction that needs reciprocation, and can potentially take something away from the giver.

What if accepting gifts is difficult?

However, when talking about how we receive gifts, we must also recognise that for some people, accepting a gift can be a burden. Surprises can be challenging and even anxiety provoking for some children (and adults!). Having the spotlight on people while they unwrap, being pressured to show delight they may not feel, to show gratitude for something they may not like, and finding “space” for unexpected and unwanted gifts can be difficult. This can make the ritual of giving and receiving gifts unpleasant and create pressure for people at an already stressful time of year. (Christmas, as well as joy and giving, also comes with lots of change, disruption to routine, end of year activities, spending time with people they don’t see often, etc). 

Think outside the (gift) box

There are more ways to give than traditional surprises and gifts, and we can show compassion and respect for those we care about by learning about what people want or need and how it is best for them to receive it, rather than just giving in a way that makes us feel good. 

As givers, we must therefore remember that giving with no expectation of return applies to all expectations. When we give, we give without conditions, and that includes letting go of any demands or expectations that someone must appreciate, accept and show gratitude for that gift. Showing compassion and respect to people who cannot open a gift in front of others, who find it difficult to express gratitude for something they didn’t want or need, or who request exemption from participation in rituals of giving and receiving, is equally as important as, for those who can, accepting appropriate gifts with gratitude and humility. 

Nonetheless, if we don’t receive, people can’t give, and while being mindful of those who find it challenging to receive, we want to continue to be a giving, caring, kind community as much as possible. 

Reciprocity tends to exist organically in a giving community, and things “even out” in the end. And if we feel the inclination to give back, it should be because others’ giving inspires us to give something forward, not because we feel obliged to pay something back.

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