Why Do We Give


A year or so ago, my husband and I were walking home and we heard this homeless guy telling everyone who passed that he was hungry. He wasn’t actually asking for money, he was just telling people he was hungry and asking if they could help.

I seldom carry cash anymore, but I could use my credit card to help end this guy’s hunger.

So, I found a pizza place that was open and I bought the guy a small pizza and a bottle of water.

Was he happy or grateful? He was not. He wanted money, not pizza.

And it got me thinking. Why do people give?

I turned to psychology – well, Psychology Today, actually. And a psychologist there wrote about the four kinds of altruism that we humans have developed.

The first is nepotism altruism. That’s the kind of altruism you do for those in your family. It’s apparently not just because you love your family, but because you are biologically invested in having your genetic material make it long-term, and your family is made up of your genetic material.

So, according to that theory, I don’t love my daughter for her own sake, I love her because she carries on the family gene pool.

Now, I know people who have adopted and they would give their lives for those kids, DNA or not, so I’m not sure about that theory.

The second kind of altruism is reciprocal altruism. You know, the standard you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours. This kind of altruism means you will sacrifice in the short term because you know there’s a longer-term payoff. I guess you could say Machiavelli had this kind of altruism, because it all sounds very calculating to me. It’s Mob altruism. Very much like, “I’ll vote for you, but don’t forget who your friends are when that legislation comes up.”

The third kind of altruism is the good you do for the sake of the group. War movies are full of this stuff…the guy who throws himself on a grenade so his platoon can survive. I would imagine that Congressional legislation would fall under this, if we had anyone in Congress willing to give anything up for the greater good. I wonder about this kind of altruism. As we become more tribal in this country, and our tribes get smaller, I wonder whether this kind of altruism is going to become extinct.

The final kind of altruism is moral altruism. That’s the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have the do unto you. And, according to this psychologist, people have a certain view of themselves and if they violate it, they experience a kind of dissonance that’s uncomfortable. The article says that this last kind of altruism is uniquely human, by the way.

I don’t know about that. On a really bad day, is the sympathy and kindness I feel from my two dogs just some kind of transaction for them? Is it a feed-me-and-I’ll-be-good-to-you kind of doggy altruism? Or is it the other way around? If they aren’t sweet to me, they fear that I’ll stop feeding them?

And wouldn’t that be another kind of altruism? The kind that is fear-based? The kind that says that people won’t be good to each other unless you hang a death penalty over their heads?

Let me get back to my homeless guy.

Why do we give?

Is it fear, or is it a bribe to the fates so you don’t wind up like that homeless guy, or is it helping us define ourselves to ourselves as good people, so we can sleep at night?




Space in Love


But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

 That’s the famous Khalil Gibran quote and you’ve probably heard it incorporated into LOTS of wedding ceremonies.

And as we get ready to celebrate Valentine’s Day, I have to wonder…what does that mean? What are spaces in your togetherness, and when is it too much space?

My mom and dad were married straight out of high school. They were married for more than 50 years and hardly ever spent a day apart. There was a brief time when dad did some sales calls on the road when I was really young, but by the time I was in college, they had started a business together and it was rare to find them apart. Weekly phone calls to the parents, it was just understood: one parent on each phone extension and nothing was ever a secret from the other one. It was always momanddad like it was one word, never mom…and…dad.

I kept trying to get them to do some things on their own, especially after I first heard that Khalil Gibran quote.

But my mom would just say, “There’s nobody I enjoy as much as I enjoy spending time with your dad, so why would I?”

When I married my husband, I married someone with very different interests. He likes photography, discipline, solitude. I like dancing, horseback riding, being pampered, and making dinner for friends. I do love spending time with him, but I would never ask him to go to a spa vacation with me. It would be excruciating for him, and worrying about him would ruin my own state of zen.

So, most years, I go without him.

The first year we did separate vacations, my mom was really worried. This was my second marriage and she was convinced I was going to screw this one up too…I mean…separate vacations?! People only do that when their marriage is in trouble! And then they have vacation flings that hammer the final nails into the marriage.

Well, no.

In fact, I would find that I came back from those vacations with a renewed appreciation for my husband. I missed him, but I would never have had the chance to miss him if he was with me every minute!

I mentioned earlier that my husband and I are very different. I can try and pretend that I care about the angle and light of endless photos of the same animal, but why? My husband is much happier without me, geeking out over camera equipment with his photographer friends. No need for me to be there.

And, dancing? Well, my husband has taken a few lessons with me, just because he’s that nice a guy. But when we go to the dance floor, he dances a few beats of a song and then gets bored. And, since songs are usually only an average of 2.5 minutes, that tells you just how much he hates dancing. But should I never dance again because my spousal dance partner won’t?

Now, my mom would have said, yes, I should never dance again. That we should develop hobbies that we both enjoy so that we can do them together. Behind that advice would be the secret fear my dance partner would somehow become more attractive to me than my own husband is.

Could happen, I suppose.

But that feeling that you need your partner to be your other half in everything? It’s not going to stop you from having an affair, if that’s what you’re set on doing.

Honoring the spaces in your togetherness depends on your maturity and your being complete all by yourself. Because that “you complete me” stuff you see in movies? It’s bullshit. Go get some space in your togetherness.

woman binding his man with a chain on white background

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