Generous Or Gullible? Loving Or Lazy?

This One Is About Your Pearls, Swine And Casting, If You Get My Drift

Last time I ended with a question: what about those jerks who take advantage of generosity in a gift economy? In answer, I tell unto you a parable. Well, actually it’s a true story from a recent webcast featuring Charles Eisenstein answering questions about sacred economics. (Oh, this is too funny! I just typed “scared” economics instead of “sacred.” Interesting transposition: maybe this whole subject of economics does fall into two basic categories: scared and sacred.)

Anyway, a woman called into the show to state that, impressed by the concept of a gift economy. she had become involved in setting up a store where those in need could help themselves to donated items. Can you believe it! complained the caller, there was this one woman who came in regularly, picked over the new items, took the best of the best and then sold them on E-Bay!

Taaacky! So what to do? Eisenstein responded that these kinds of things are bound to happen as we humans struggle to take the next step forward in our evolution, but he didn’t have a strong recommendation of how to handle the less evolved right now. One answer I have heard people give about situations of this nature is that it’s the gifting spirit that is important and to leave it to the other person’s karma when s/he abuses the generosity. I have a different perspective: when you cast your pearls before swine once and they trample on them, time to put a policy in place to stop the trampling. To make an obviously clever financial analogy: responsibility and compassion, justice and mercy, are two sides of the same coin. If others disrespect your gifts once, letting them get away with it a second time indicates you yourself may not be valuing them.

When it is a charitable endeavor as in the example above, perhaps the policy is that if someone uses the donations to her advantage with little concern about their larger purpose, she may, at minimum, be verbally taken to task on her behavior, or even banned from the store all together. In a situation where an organization is gifting money, as does our family charity Just Heart Foundation (two-sided coin again: Just=justice; heart=mercy) which I plugged in my last post and am now seizing the opportunity to plug again, a credit check is a logical first step to prevent abuse of the system. Bottom line: behaviors have consequences and bad behaviors have bad consequences; unfortunately, sometimes the person giving the gift has to be the one to create the consequences, much as s/he may not like to do so.

Thinking more about the E-Bay woman takes me back to the example in my last post of sharing a lawn mower. Actually it was a suggestion from Eisenstein, but I’ve since become aware of complications: if a lot of people are using the mower and it breaks down, who addresses the problem? Perhaps it would just be better to donate items vs. sharing them, as in the store mentioned above. That way if the mower breaks, the store decides what happens. Maybe someone offers to repair it at no charge, maybe it gets sold, or possibly it’s not worth repairing and the parts get recycled.

So much to think through! Oh, soapbox, thou art indeed seductive!


P.S. Rethinking the jerk comments. Maybe should change it to “honored lesson giver in the art of taking responsibility for the offering of one’s gifts.” Never mind! Too long. “Jerk” will work.




10 thoughts on “Generous Or Gullible? Loving Or Lazy?

  1. Lisa

    I completely agree with you. When people let themselves get taken advantage of in the name of being generous I think it’s more often unwillingness to be assertive. I speak as one who knows….one who’s been there, done that. I think the Buddhists call that “idiot compassion.” : ) Write on, J.K.!

  2. wolfhalton

    It seems like the gifts had a few strings attached. A gifting store sounds like a great idea, where people bring their gently used items and give them to the store for others to use. This means that the others should be able to use the gifted items without a side order of judgment. Maybe the store owner could ask this enterprising person to bring more stuff to the store that doesn’t fit the criteria for EBay sale.

    1. jkwinters Post author

      Excellent ideas. As we move into a gift economy there are many aspects to consider. Good to examine some of these matters ahead of time, so let’s keep the dialogue going!

  3. Lisa

    I like Wolf’s post, but I gotta ask….what’s wrong with judgement? Especially since naming something judgemental is a judgement in itself. Actually, I get the spirit of what Wolf is saying. I see the example as more of a “discrimination”, to give a more nuanced word. There were 2 times when I felt my generosity was taken advantage of as a yoga biz owner. Someone asked for a scholarship – which means it was my time and very little of her $, because she “couldn’t afford it.” But when I got to her house she was having home renovations done that I can’t afford. I wish I’d been assertive enough to tell her I felt taken advantage of. The 2nd time I did stand up for myself when a person asked for a refund because she hadn’t attended classes that she’d paid for. I politely and calmly (not passive-aggressively) explained to her that she gets paid as a teacher no matter how many kids show up. I run my business the same way. I felt really good about that, and not just letting it pass or being “nice” and “generous” because it wouldn’t have been how I really felt, it would have been because I was afraid to confront.

    I think the area of “generosity” is ripe with spiritual bypassing.

    1. jkwinters Post author

      I’m loving this discussion! Naming something as judgmental is a judgment in itself. Duh! Why didn’t I think of that? I will try to remember it, but not making any promises as I may just accidentally fall into some spiritual bypassing myself. How do I spiritually bypass? Let me count the ways! Good calls, Lisa!

  4. wolfhalton

    I am not sure about the judgment is a judgment thing. Maybe it is a question of attachment. If I give something away, I like to hear later that the recipient is having fun with it, but that is the extent of my involvement with the thing. There are things that I am so attached to that I would never knowingly give them away. I know I have those attachments, and the things are not always rare and valuable in any particular way. I practice being aware of attachments. I think the “What would you do if ____ ” construction leads to gently or jarringly illusory journeys. My own comment above leads to this kind of muse. If the original story is true in any objective sense, then the expectations of the store-owner, and the linguistic frame those expectations produce, might well preclude them coming up with creative alternatives to merely calling in and complaining about the situation as she saw it.
    What is a spiritual bypass? Is that the narrow rocky way chosen to avoid the congestion on I-285 at rush hour?

  5. jkwinters Post author

    Oh that we had some bypasses–spiritual or otherwise–on I-285! I was waiting for Lisa to give you her definition and she may still do that; meanwhile the definition I am familiar with from my study of psychology means to use spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with some of the more difficult aspects of life such as unresolved emotions and making an honest living. It frequently involves having delusions of spiritual transcendence, over-romanticizing the spiritual life (it’s a constant high, it’s an other-worldly experience…), being overly positive and over-generous without being willing to confront the negatives or co-dependent nature of these behaviors. The term was coined by psychologist John Welwood in the ’80s..

  6. Lisa

    such a great conversation here – thanks y’all! J.K., love how you explained spiritual bypassing. Yeah, I’ve thought of it as holding spirituality as all sweetness and light, happy thoughts, kindness, positivity. Which makes no sense when the spiritual masters all talked about and lived close to the darkness – Jesus got betrayed and crucified, the Buddha based his teachings on suffering ,Moses was kept out of the Promised Land, etc., As I understand it, spiritual bypassing is that transcendent (awakened) realm of spirituality that doesn’t want to deal with the difficult, painful, messiness of human life (or calls it an illusion). But that’s just half the path, the rest of the path is to come back down and literally embody the divine into humanity.
    To deal courageously (and often messily) with human stuff like anger, fear, jealousy, lonliness, pain, etc. Now I forgot where that hooked into your blog post, J.K.?

    1. jkwinters Post author

      Well, I was “judging” the E-Bay woman’s behavior and then Wolf argued, once a gift is given shouldn’t we detach from it rather than judge how it is used? The original question I posed was, do we have a responsibility to see the gift is used for the spirit it was intended–in the case of the E-Bay woman, the donors gave gifts assuming they would be used by those who needed them. So…maybe the E-Bay woman needed to make some money to survive and she used it well, but how would the donors feel and would they keep donating if they knew she was selling their gifts on E-Bay? The question we ask ourselves at Just Heart, our family charity, is how can we responsibly use the monetary donations, because that’s what the donors would want us to do. My feeling is that we should also value our own individual gifts in the same way–as I said in the post, don’t cast your pearls before the same swine more than once. Lisa–I loved the Buddhist phrase–“idiot compassion,” which is a specific kind of spiritual bypassing as I understand it. So, are you hooked back in to the post now?

      About your observation that we need to unite the transcendent with the mundane–of course! I keep getting that “duh” feeling about your brilliant insights, Lisa. I honor the gift you offer to this blog–and in my life. Namaste.

  7. Lisa

    can I just add something – “the performative contradiction”. Oh how I love that phrase. It means to apply a principle to the principle itself and see what happens. Hence, the principle, “don’t judge” is a performative contradiction because “don’t judge” is a judgement in itself. Is that cool or what? Heard Ken Wilber explaining it.

    So, that was a side tangent. I really like that Wolfe brought up – shouldn’t a gift have no strings attached? I think that is a very high level of generosity. Sometimes I do that. But sometimes I really do want something back, or to have some rules around it. I want to “feel good” or I want to cement a relationship or I want to get a thank you, or I hope to get a present back, or……….Sometimes it’d be good if I know what I want back and make it explicit (let the lady in the Ebay example know the rules).

    Gifts with strings attached makes me think of the idea that if someone invites you for dinner you should certainly and immediately:
    – write a thank you note
    – or, 2nd best, call to thank them
    – have them over to your house for dinner very soon

    That is more like a reciprocal arrangement or trade. Tit for tat.. I don’t actually think there is anything wrong with that. Different societies set different expectations (the expectations above are from my parents’ generation).

    Gifts are social glue.

    Great discussion!


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