Life is made up with givers and takers. I am blessed in being surrounded by givers. My lovely wife, my son and daughter, St Michael (Dr Long) and Paul Newman, just to mention a few who have involved themselves in my life over the past few weeks with their generosity of love and spirit..
Sadly, I have to confess that I am one of the world’s takers. Not by choice, I might add. We are all the product of nature and nurture In my case lack of nurture at an early stage undoubtedly exerted a strong influence on this characteristic. Certainly, unwanted by a teenage mother; abandoned at birth by a father I was destined never to meet (at least they were married when I was born); farmed out to a boarding nursing home at 18 months, evacuated at five with a label around my neck with thousands of other children from London not knowing where I was going or with whom I would end up and from thence to a series of boarding schools until my mid teens. This â€˜start in lifeâ€™ undoubtedly instilled a sense of personal survival which, in turn, would have suppressed any natural tendency to give to others.,
I bear no grudges about this unpromising beginning but, I believe, it is not surprising that I find it harder to give rather to take. This goes through the whole gambit of material things as well as to love itself. As I have hopefully matured I have fought hard against this natural taking tendency but still do not give with the generosity of the natural giver, such as those I Â mentioned, do without a moment’s hesitation. Having said that I recognise how very lucky I am in the way things have turned out and 20 years ago made a conscious promise to myself that I would spend all the time I had left trying to help and give to others less fortunate than myself.
I suppose the start of this self-healing process was when I founded The Themanus Golfing Society. I was, at that time, the chief executive of what is now the Sanctuary Housing Association – one of the largest housing association in the country – and was conscious that there was a great divide between the housing movement and the quasi government officials from the Housing Corporation (HC), who doled out our money. In order to heal the breach I conceived the idea of an annual golf match between the chief executive of the HC, Â his chief officers and the CEOs and their senior assistants from the 10 or so largest housing associations. I ran the first tournament 27 years ago at my club at Royal Worlington. Why Themanus, you might ask. For five years or so I maintained the myth that it derived from the Greek, and loosely translated meant Â togetherness. An apposite name which described the purpose of the club. However, unable to contain the fiction any longer, after a five-year I Â ultimately confessed that it actually stood for Themâ€™anâ€™Us. Â It achieved its purpose and is still running today, although being out of the movement I am no longer President.
It was Mark Tulleyâ€™s, early Sunday morning programme on radio 4,Â Something Understood -this week entitled Sympathy inÂ Choice, which Â sparked off this train of thought.
In referring to the Roman Catholic priest and religious spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen he said that this priest . “saw our suffering, our brokenness and especially our fear of our worthlessness, as part of God’s plan for us. He believed that accepting that God had broken us, triggered the realisation that we are intended to live in sympathy with others. In his book â€˜ Life of the Beloved -Spiritual Living in a Secular Worldâ€™, Andre Nouwen wrote about our suffering, our brokenness when he said “we are chosen, blessed and broken so as to be given. What a wonderful mystery this is, our greatest fulfilment Â lies in giving ourselves to others, although it often seems that people give only to receive. I believe, that beyond all our desires to be appreciated, rewarded, acknowledged. their lies a Â simple and pure desire to give. I remember how I once spent long hours looking in Dutch stores for a birthday gift for my father or mother, simply enjoying being able to give. Our humanity comes to its fullest bloom in giving. It’s sad to see that in our highly competitive and greedy world we’ve lost touch with the joy of giving.
Â We often live as if our happiness depended on having, but I don’t know anyone who is really Â happy because of what he or she has. True joy, happiness and inner peace comes from the giving of ourselves to others. A happy life is a life for others. That truth, however, is usually discovered when we are confronted with our brokenness.
Being an atheist I clearly cannot believe in what Henri Nouwen describes as “God’s plan for us” but nevertheless I empathise and the relate to the sentiment expressed.
In most groups there is usually one obvious recalcitrant giver. The last man to go to the bar and sayâ€™ it’s my around does anyone want a drinkâ€™, only too aware that most of the group already have a full glass. Or, the person who others consider is rather introvert, who finds it hard to relate to other people and perhaps is unable to display affection with the ease expressed so Â naturally by the much loved. When you come across a situation like this again, do not despise this individual, which is a perfectly normal reaction, but do quite the opposite. Give them a hug -either physically, or if the circumstances do not warrant it,Â metaphorically (I should hate to advise any of my readersÂ on a course of action that might get them arrested for assault!) – made them feel wanted and loved, for almost certainly that is what that has been missing in their life. The extraordinary thing about the love is, that it is probably the only thing you can think of, that the more you give, the more it grows and the more you receive.
Other examples of personal manifestation of attempting to metamorphoseÂ from taker to giver, can be illustrated by two other events. The founding of The Arbitration Club, 20 years ago, when I coined the motto Excellence through Sharing. I have come to believe sharing one’s experiences is one of the most valuable ways that people, who have enjoyedÂ full and interesting lives, can assist the less experienced. (The club has 10 branches, or associated clubs, some overseas, and something in the order of 1000Â members.)
The second event is running my course in China. I made it clear from the very beginning when I went to China, it was not to teach up but share what little experience I had with them. As my course is essentially all about dispute resolution and the Chinese were sophisticated mediators, when we were running around in woad Â in Great Britain, it seemed impertinence to claim that I was teaching them. Maybe a touch of false humility but nevertheless a step in the right direction towards my personal conversion to giving, as the time devoted to writing this course and delivering it were given entirely free.
Even this blog follows the same principle with its motto of Caring through Sharing and I know that this works, at least for the some of the 500,000 people who have accessed it, by the wonderfully personal, and often private, e-mails I have received from readers.
Reverting to Andre Noowenâ€™s wise words and relating this to the sick, it is inevitable that the patient will end up as the taker and the carer as the giver, whether naturally inclined that way or not. Those of us who are blessed with natural givers are amongst the very fortunate. These carers are rarely afforded the acknowledgement they deserve but the takers among them may well abandon the task to others.