It is better to be in a position to give than in a position to receive.

“Money can’t buy love, but it improves your bargaining position.”
~ Christopher Marlowe

We have most likely heard this saying in that it is better to give than to receive. Regardless of its origins, it presupposes that the act of giving is held better in regard than the act of receiving, most highly regarded by those of religious virtues and values.

However, an article or excerpt from a book once read prior once exclaimed that the actual saying is said as it is better to be in a position to give than in a position to receive.

This axiom tells us that being in an advantageous position is much more worthy than being in a disadvantageous position. Indeed, we are then ascribing ourselves to another maxim which is it is better to err on the side of caution.

Let’s think about the incomplete version. If it is so good to give, then why don’t we all give others everything we have in our due possession? Why do we then hold valuables, materials and holdings rather than giving it away?

Simply because we are unconsciously following the complete axiom. No matter what we call ourselves, we will always be beings with the sense of self-preservation and self-interest. It is encoded in our nature to protect well-being first and foremost before all others. To put ourselves in a precarious position is plain insane by any form of standard, whether it is instinctively or rationally (unless there is something to gain, even then a calculated risk). In such an advantageous position, we are in control and able to dictate our terms to our most favourable outcome. Besides, we then have the means to negotiate an even better position compared to anyone else.

Regardless of it all, we would always remember we should always be in a position to give, but that never means that we should neither give or not give. Besides, that also means that being in a position to give is no obligation for us to give to others unless we deem it prudent or our consciousness dictates so.

Animals have genes for altruism, and those genes have been selected in the evolution of many creatures because of the advantage they confer for the continuing survival of the species.”
~ Lewis Thomas

Much of our behaviours today originate from our ancestors. In that,  we are in-tuned with our instinctive nature to be in an advantageous position to maximize our chances of survival and in-turn the opportunity to reproduce. While this may sound cynical, it is what it is and by no means it is limited to this view. Societies have a propensity to help each other through sheer acts of altruism in which yes, it is better to give than to receive in that the act of altruism is for the greater good for our society.

With that said, humanity still has the will to freedom to do as it chooses. To do so, we must always be aware of our nature to then understand it and finally mater ourselves and others, for the greater good.

Further Reading:

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A fish is the last to acknowledge the existence of water.

“The ego is nothing other than the focus of conscious attention.”
~ Alan Watts
Let’s set the scene.

There are fish. They swim in a fishbowl full of water. They swim back and forth while interacting with each other.

There is a person observing the fishes and wondering if the fishes consciously realizes they are in water and whether they understand the importance of water to their very survival.

That’s the framed scene in question that we are thinking about today. It is not important to determine if the fishes do realize that, only that we have now created this analogy in our minds.

Based on my understanding and reading, this analog appears to originate from a translation of a African proverb. Another origin is from the works of academics and writers, most famously written by the late David Foster Wallace.

While you may then argue that fish do not have the same cognitive capability, intellectual know-how and self-awareness to even ponder about their situation, it provides a suitable analogy for us to then channel towards people in turn.

Now, let’s bring our attention to people and frame it as such.

There is a crowd of people going about their day-to-day business. Most of which would lead ordinary lives and be ordinary people. Many of which would perhaps realize and acknowledge the situation, premise and reality of which they live in but will more likely than not, will never question it.

Here, people live their lives in invisible societal or cultural bubbles. In cross-cultural management studies and teachings, lecturers and academicians like to normally cite about cultural bubbles in which people of one society live in. This phenomena becomes very visible (at the very least, people become self-aware of it) when.. people from a different culture experience a different culture altogether. In that, cross-cultural managers are actually recommended to learn more about their own culture so they can understand what differentiates their own society’s culture from others. To put it metaphorically, get a fish to develop a taste for differentiating different waters. Even in the same general culture or society, there are different sub-cultures due to regional differences.

While there are no qualms with the good virtues that a society practices, it is the flaws and behaviours that we now draw our attention to. It is these things that require changing.

Interestingly, the behaviours of people can be quite ironic. Unlike the fishes, human beings possess the potential to develop intellectual acumen, self-consciousness and the reasoning required to understand the bubble they are in.

In fact, some people may sometimes be consciously aware of it. However, few people have the force of will, discipline, intellectual prowess and humility or even audacity to have the the self-awareness to realize and analyze themselves in this invisible bubble. As it stands, people would more likely submit themselves to societal and cultural norms because they believe the importance of the majority precedes the importance of the individual. If not that, they would be following their unconscious instinctive nature found in humanity’s ancestors.

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

Now that we realize this, we would think that after knowing the said phenomena, we would be positioned to inform people about it so society would change for the better. Let’s not kid ourselves. It won’t happen.

In a perfect world where people have the intellectual self-awareness to reflect and understand themselves alongside the society they live in, this would be a piece of cake. However, we don’t live in that world and people can be horribly irrational, even me. Pointing that out would make people even more adamant to not change as it has been internalized by themselves. The best way to make people realize it is to indeed point it out but make them question it themselves, while pointing them in the right direction from time to time.

To end, all we can do is show them the way and its their decision whether or not they are willing to explore that open path. Most importantly, it is to we ourselves that we should realize this, be aware of it and consciously strive to change ourselves for the better, whether or not it aligns with the norms of our society. Lastly, become an exemplar that makes people want to follow you, thus inciting the very change we perhaps were hoping for.

Till the next time.

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