How Generosity Breaks, and How to Get it Back
Mirrors and black holes
Generosity usually works like a hall of mirrors: the generous energy you give out bounces around in the world and comes back to you.
The things you get back aren’t of equal shape and quantity that you put out. Some people think this is a bug—you spend more than you receive. You get less than you give, and the things you get back are unexpected things you were not looking for, at unexpected times.
This is not a bug; this is a feature. You want to get back different things than what you give. Some very important, vital, and special things that you cannot make for yourself, you can only get by putting out a generous energy.
But being “more generous” is not always so simple. Many people have been burned from their generosity. There is an art to being generous in the right ways, to the right people, in ways that cost you virtually nothing but multiply the sparkle you get back from relationships.
Things you get from living in a generous way that are very hard to get otherwise include:
Your romantic partner spontaneously doing nice things for you, including getting you gifts and initiating great sex.
People giving you intel about things you care about, that you would not have discovered otherwise.
Getting invited to events and group chats.
People sharing their thoughts with you first about what’s going on with them, and letting you have an an insider’s look at things they are working on.
People looping you in on things they are unsure about, so that they can take your advice, pivot around you, or do things in ways you approve of because they trust you.
Sounds pretty good, right? There is no downside to generosity in general, but certain kinds of neutral or negative feedback loops between a person and their environment can cause a person to feel exhausted and drained and as if they are losing too much of their life essence. We must remember that the problem is not the concept of generosity, but the broken person-environment energy supply chain in those bad situations.
Being generous by itself never causes problems. But certain kinds of feedback can hurt a person and lead them to believe that generosity is a bad idea. Some patterns include:
Doing something nice for somebody, and them not noticing, or else them insulting you in return.
Giving a lot of yourself to a cause, or a religion, and not getting the promised returns.
Giving up something you care a lot about to try to please somebody else, and then the person not actually being pleased.
Giving something up, and then realizing you cannot live without the thing you gave up.
In all of these situations, you are not getting back the normal, rejuvenating results of generosity. You are in a much more heavy and distorted feedback loop. It’s almost as if you are putting your energy into a black hole.
This may discourage a person from being generous in their life, because then the assumption is that generosity does not get good results, but rather just ends in depletion, being taken advantage of, or having your soul sucked out of you.
The sad part about this is that then the person does not get the nice things they want from their relationships, that you can only get with generosity. They wonder what they are doing wrong, and how to get the nice things. This is often very sad, because often the reason that they are hesitant to be generous first, is because something bad happened to them in their past that made them think that generosity is dangerous.
Often they end up playing games of chicken, not giving something until they get something from the other person first. This works sometimes, but eventually the other person gets tired of making the first move—and this leads to stalemates with people of the same type. In a relationship, this leads to a lot of resentment.
Unfortunately, many people in our current society have been burned before, either by malicious actors, people with bad social skills, or people who did not take the responsibility they had over other people serious, and so many people are playing the ungenerous chicken game. We get many games of chicken, and many stalemates.
The way out of this loop is emotionally difficult, but logistically straightforward. Ideally, you would be doing these two activities at the same time:
Play with different forms of generosity with different people than you are used to interacting with. See what kind of unexpected nice things you get.
Look into what thought loops you have around the concept of giving. Under what conditions is giving acceptable? Under what conditions should you be wary about giving? How do you tell the difference? How did you form your beliefs?
Over time, by doing the first activity you will be collecting new data about how the world works, and what kinds of rewards you might get for your efforts.
By doing the second activity, you will be pulling the threads on your assumptions about how the world works, and inserting the data you found in your first activity.