You Keep What You Give

A hand holds a yellow dandelion bloom that it offers to the viewer.
Every gift counts, the expression matters most.

The only thing you truly keep is that which you give away.

I have heard it said many times in different ways but never really understood it until now. How can you keep what you’ve given away? It sounds like a paradox. It’s difficult to wrap your head around it. Probably because we tend to think materialistically. In today’s world goods are exchanged and gifts are given but you only have what you receive. What you give is gone, passed along to someone else. This materialistic interpretation misses an entire dimension of giving and I pose the only true dimension of giving, if giving is the purpose of the action at all.

Change the Perception on Possessions

Even the dictionary definition of ‘giving’ limits the action to a material interpretation. According to Google, the infinitive ‘to give’ is defined as the free transfer of the ‘possession of something to someone.’ This surface interpretation is not false, but it does overlook the most important and valuable aspect of giving, the aspect of giving that extends beyond the material to the spiritual realm. Oh, does the term ‘spiritual’ make you uncomfortable? Then, let’s just use the sister term ‘consciousness’ so we can move the discussion forward.

Two bodies showing skeleton and organs and between them design of lines that indicate non physical connections and interactions perhaps on a consciousness level.
How do we measure consciousness, awareness beyond the confines of the physical form?

While many balk at the suggestion of spirit, they cannot deny the workings of ‘consciousness.’ Imagine measuring joy, pain, or love, subjectivity aside. You cannot deny that emotion exists, although proving it scientifically is out of the question even with modern medical technology at our full disposal. The act of giving for the giver is an expression, a desire to build a connection or fulfill someone’s need. It is a selfless gesture, an act of empathy and compassion. To what degree, with what intensity, prompted by which intention, only the giver truly can know. Birthdays, Christmas, house warmings, and baby showers; who can deny the excitement, the anticipation, the happiness, or the real connections developed consequent to the act of giving.  

Is the gift itself more important than the action of giving?

Give kindness, support, time, and love.

However, it isn’t always a positive experience. How a gift is received has a lot to do with the expectations of the recipient. If I give my 15-year old the Chronicles of Narnia series when all he really wanted was an iPad, that gift as amazing as it is (I loved those books!), won’t likely be well-received. Perhaps the Chronicles of Narnia in an Amazon Kindle would have been a better way to go. The point is should any gift ever be measured by how well it is received? Does how it is received diminish in any way the action of giving? This leads me to realize that receiving a gift graciously can also be a gift–a gift back to the giver. I have a sister whose sole enjoyment is in giving gifts. She has no qualms about the expense. Her joy resides in satisfying the needs of the recipient. Repayment for her is a sincere thank you and knowledge that the gift has been appreciated or is of benefit.

True giving is a selfless action,
an act of empathy and compassion.

A bouquet of daisies and purple flowers held in the hands of a child offered as a gift.
Have you ever picked wild flowers to give to a loved one? How did that feel?

An Exchange Beyond the Material

So, I’ve established that this exchange beyond the material does exist. However, I’m still trying to grasp my initial claim, that the only thing you truly keep is that which you give away. If I give my money to someone in need, that money is gone. If I give my computer or my car or anything that I own, I won’t have that item in my possession anymore. But I will still hold the feeling and memory of giving. Also long after the object has been donated, tossed, broken or torn, the connections created by giving continue to exist and grow. What’s more, at some point in time, material items will no longer serve me. The material of this world will mean nothing. No one can escape the inevitability of death. When we cross that line, our homes, our designer boots and bags, gold jewelry and bank accounts, will all be left behind. Our physical bodies will be left as well, covered by soil, returning to soil.

A small child looks forlorn up into the camera. He wears a dirty yellow shirt and matching yellow shorts. He stands in a poor classroom on a cold cement floor.
Give your knowledge and time, make a difference in the life of others.

At that point all that I had had in my possession will no longer be mine. However, what I gave away and the impact it had on the lives that my gift touched, that will still be with me. Some of the best gifts aren’t even material items. For example, I could gift my time or my skills without expectation of material recompense. I could gift words of kindness, support, or inspiration. I could gift knowledge by teaching. And once given, my time would be gone but my knowledge or my words of kindness just might linger in the hearts of those who received. And this is precisely how it is true that what I keep is only what I’ve given away.

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