A Time for Giving Up on Giving

What does it actually mean to “give”? I gave my brother an awesome coloring book for Christmas, but that feels very different than the single “F” I gave this semester to a single student who couldn’t get it together to give a single shit on a single assignment.

Giving grief and giving thanks are dissimilar; giving a fuck is very different than giving a high-five; giving up and giving in don’t have too much in common (unless you’re giving up on a boring diet and giving in to the glorious call of In N Out).

Bottom line? Actions are only half, often even less than half, as important as their objects.

The English language (and maybe some other languages, but I’m monolingual so I’m sticking to what I know) stresses the importance of “giving” in many commonplace metaphors:

  • Give a hand
  • Give a piece of my mind
  • Give thanks
  • Give it your all
  • Give up (or don’t, depending on the situation)

But pausing to think about all of this giving, what does it leave the individual with?

For instance, when my kids walked into their final exam a few weeks ago I advised them to “give it their all.” Sure. That’s realistic. If I’m 16 years old and an adult tells me to give something as minute as a semester final “my all,” then what am I left to give out for the next 60 years of my life? Will my boss accept the excuse that sorry, I can’t do quality work, I gave my “all” back in eleventh grade in AP English. Since “all” is an absolute, I have absolutely nothing left to “give,” so I’ll just head home for the day.

Breaking down the unrealistic English socio-linguistic (say it five times fast and I’ll give you a dollar) expectation of constant giving, it can also be inferred that this constant giving is essentially altruistic. From kindergarten little league to the SAT; from our first job interview to our last kiss; in wedding vows and tax returns, we’re expected to promise, sign, and guarantee that we’ve given everything we’re “supposed to;” everything the situation deserves.

Never, though, are we encouraged to give inwardly. Unless you’re eating a Kit Kat bar, you’re not allowed to “give yourself a break.” In fact, it’s unattractive and unAmerican to give yourself anything.

This leaves us with a mathematical paradox: give your all here, give your best there, give this person a shoulder to cry on and that person an ear to whine into and you get… emotional exhaustion and functional alcoholism by the age of 24.

The Third Law of Physics outlines the simple, critical principal that literally makes our world go around: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. We seem to ignore this in our interpersonal lives, though. Like, we get that when you push a swing with your niece on it, you’re going to have to move or the swing (and your 45-pound niece) will smack you in the face, but we haven’t yet figured out how to apply that principal to our relationships, which is why most of us are stressed out, drained, and fucking annoyed most of the time.

New Year’s resolutions being the vapid bullshit that they are (let’s be honest, you’re not going to lose ten pounds and you definitely won’t stop drinking on weekdays), make a real one this year: Give yourself this gift in the New Year, and every day of every year yet to come: Stop giving when you don’t have anything left. It’s not selfish, it’s survival.


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