Giving and Needing

Giving and Needing

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Ideally, they go together. One needs, another gives, and a nice balance is reached. I have a need in my life, you have something to fill that need, and so, everything is all right? Not necessarily. Gifts and needs don’t always correspond.

This can happen accidentally, when a certain gift just doesn’t meet the felt need, despite best efforts to make it work. This is more likely to happen should little or no effort be made to bond the two together. And, of course, it is guaranteed to fail if one deliberately goes out of his or her way to give what is not needed or wanted.

There are “givers” among us, who by temperament or by acquired character traits, find it in their interest to fashion a gift pat to the purpose. They do so naturally, almost automatically, with little fanfare, and as a matter of course. No big deal for them. On the other hand, it may be a concerted and deliberately arranged exchange, with the giver intentionally trying to meet a specific need. In these cases, chances are good that giving and needing correspond, in the way they should.

Should this occur at some sacrifice to the giver, it is the more appreciated. On the other hand, when it flows out of an abundance that the giver enjoys, where he or she experiences little or no pain in the exchange, it can still meet a need, but the transaction is different, since the significance of giving out of abundance requires less of the giver’s self.

Some give, regardless of how this occurs, but he or she really want to be recognized for doing so, like the deduction a taxpayer is entitled to for gifts he or she gives another. Perhaps a bit of publicity. Minimally, a thank you. And there is nothing wrong with this. But, should none of this be in the offing, the generosity of such a giver usually wanes, irrespective of the need. Generosity understandably makes one feel good about oneself, but, as Jesus commented on one occasion, when throwing a banquet, don’t do so only because you are likely to be rewarded for doing so, but do so to meet the need of one who cannot repay you in kind (Lk 14.12-14).

O course, there are those who couldn’t care less about any recognition. This can be admirable, or it can simply mean that it doesn’t matter that much to the giver. It doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, so far as they are concerned. This can give off a mixed signal to the recipient that the exchange is impersonal and not worth being elevated to a dignified level. Such an impersonal gift diminishes the value of a personal need.

The other side of this whole process, of course, is the one in need. Thankfully, few of us are in total need, that is, of everything.   But likely most of us have been in need of something, at one time. Of course, needs vary in their origins. Some people are needy because they have been careless and/or negligent with what they have had. Others are needy because they’re incompetent—they just can’t manage their affairs. Then there are those who falsify or magnify their needs. And then there are genuine needs that one cannot meet despite his/her best efforts: a certain kind of medicine that is beyond one’s means to acquire.

Ideally, for every needy person there is a giving person. When push comes to shove, it should be the need that “calls the shot” in any exchange, not the gift. Need guides gift-giving rather than gift-giving managing need. So long as needs prevail, then giving is required. But just because giving occurs, it doesn’t mean that needs are met. This is a problem some givers fail to see. For they say: Look, I have been generous, I have given such and such over this period of time, so haven’t I fulfilled my obligation? Why should I be expected to give more? But, so long as needs continue, giving is needed, from those still capable of providing it. Just because giving continues doesn’t mean needs are satisfied. For the giving is to match the need, not the need to match the giving. Any ideal gift is one that meets a need. An overflowing stockpile of gifts may not conform to what is needed. Another tie for Christmas is not needed for an uncle who already has more than he can handle. But a tieless uncle may need one.

Both wealth and poverty exist in our world. Whether wealth determines or causes poverty is more debatable than whether poverty determines the deployment of wealth. There can be a vast supply of medication for a disease that no longer exists. And there can be an epidemic of huge proportions requiring a medicine that is unavailable. It is need that directs giving, not giving that determines need.

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