A Quandary

I hold two (seemingly) mutually incompatible philosophies of life.

Philosophy One: True happiness in life comes from giving. You will never find fulfillment until you are able to give, freely and without thought of return. Only then will you have abundant life, and you will find that the more you give, the more you have to give. Focussing outwards is the key to joy.

Philosophy Two: In order to take care of others, you must first take care of yourself. You cannot simply sit and take life as it comes and expect happiness; you must reach out and grasp for what your heart desires. You can’t control everything, but as much as it is within your power it is your responsibility to yourself to seek out your bliss. Ultimately you shortchange others as much as yourself if you fail to live up to your full potential out of fear of causing hurt.

I believe both of these. Deeply, sincerely, wholeheartedly. I know people of people who have built full, satisfying lives on both principles. And they are, as far as I can tell, completely incompatible.

Has anyone had any success reconciling these disparate points of view?

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  1. I think that when you are a selfish enough person to take the time and resources to make yourself happy you have the resources to draw on to give to others. The two philosophies seem innately compatible to me, however I would add the caveat that in life it is also important that you (selfishly) retain the right to select the beneficiaries of your gifts. Giving to things and people you care about (philosophy one) rather than those you don’t is selfish (philosophy two) and yet fulfilling.

    1. Oh, and in the same vein (and my own attempts to be more social) since we live relatively close to each other, I’d like to invite you and your family over to dinner sometime (philosophy one) even if it’s mostly an excuse for me to get to use my dining room and china (philosophy two). If you guys are interested, just let me know and I promise to at least try to come up with a vegan meal.

      1. Eh. That’s very kind, but it doesn’t need to be vegan. LOL

  2. Since..

    this is try to respond to all of ‘s posts day.. here’s a thought..

    I don’t see these philosophies as incompatible at all.. (perhaps also because I do try to live by both of them..)

    The key integrator, in my view, comes when you look at your heart.. As you state in Philosophy #2.. “you must reach out and grasp for what your heart desires.”..

    What your heart must desire is to give freely, without thought of return, as much as you can give to those around you

    By doing this.. by recognizing that only by exercising philosophy #1 as an integral part of your life can you achieve the goals of Philosophy #2–namely self-fullfillment…

    Corollary to #2–Taking care of yourself need not necessitate all that much “taking” from the world. while you may, indeed, require some resources to keep yourself alive.. to keep yourself happy.. to maintain yourself.. these requirements for living are just that.. requirements… and after obtaining these minimal necessities, the remaining focus of your efforts can then be towards giving back to the rest…

    Further thought.. sometimes there are phase lags in life.. for example.. in taking care of yourself/reaching your potential you may have to take from the world’s resources in the sense of obtaining a better education for yourself… however.. this is not a real net withdrawal from the world if, at the end of this education, you use the new knowledge and practices to give back even more than you have received..

    okay.. I done now.

  3. Giving to yourself is still giving to someone.

    Opening to and being generous with others has the benefit of, if nothing else, making you feel good and making yourself feel good is a way of taking care of yourself and your needs.

    And, these two things can fluctuate throughout life…sometimes you need more, sometimes you have more to give, but rarely if ever is one going to be completely nonexistent.

    I see it as less of a dichotomy than a cyclical flow…the intake and exhale of universal energy, if it were. If you didn’t breathe in, you wouldn’t have anything to exhale; if you didn’t exhale, you wouldn’t be able to take in anything new.

  4. giving without obsessing about, or calculating amount of, return is all fine and well.

    giving as a daily social principle, with NO concern at all for what you receive back, is stupid and borders on insane. if you waste all your available energy on those who never return anything at all, you have nothing left to give those who deserve it, and who appreciate it enough to reciprocate. the whole idea of absolutely selfless love is IMO hype designed to persuade people to feel ennobled when they tolerate complete bullshit.

    i am still finetuning my balance, probably always will be. despite what most of your readers may think, i actually commonly err towards giving far too much without concern for what i get back. but there has to be a limit. if that energy is truly yours and yours alone to give, with or without “reason” then it is also yours to NOT give when it doesnt suit you to do so, with or without “reason” – it is when you can give at will without only seeing your own gain, AND refuse to give without guilt when it doesnt suit you or when the imbalance is so extreme as to become ludicrous, that you truly own it.

  5. ditto batgirl- If we all operated in both these principles then we would be equally replenished. Giving without expecting anything in return works for awhile until the takers make off with a full heart and never offer a smidgen back to you. There are so many people who feed off of the genuine givers of the world and empty the well that the givers stop giving and the cycle pretty much ends. I know that even if it is completely unbalanced but eventually someone does attempt to give back to me it makes all the difference and does make me feel whole.

    1. I’ll add somewhat of a reiteration here too: You aren’t violating the principle just because you don’t GIVE everytime someone ASKS.

  6. I think the thing most people don’t realize about principle 1 is that you don’t have to give people what they want or what they think you should give them. And also, like said, you don’t have to give indiscirimately. Give to those your soul wants you to.

    So people may still sit around calling Avdi a selfish bastard because he isn’t giving the things they think he should be giving. That doesn’t mean you are violating the principle, it means people are talking about something they don’t understand.

    So hey, I just gave you a computer, albeit a broken one. I did that because you are my friend, and I like to spread the love where I can. Unless the person is obviously a vet, I’m also the sort of person to tell homeless people to leave me the hell alone. I wouldn’t spit on them because that’s just not my MO, but God knows most of the time I want to. (I got a soft spot for the vets though, because we really let them down.)

    The bottom line is that giving means nothing if you’re only doing it because you think you should. And you probably don’t even remember the gifts you gave because you wanted to. . .like coming to visit me after I had the baby. And didn’t you buy me lunch once? You probably forgot all about those things, because you just did them and didn’t think much else about it.

    As far as the second principle goes, if I had a dollar for everytime people told me they were glad I existed (yourself included) I could take us both to lunch at Burger King. By living this second principle I also live the first. Narcissim aside, my existence is a gift I give to those who know me. . .and yours is too, even if you don’t realize it.

  7. May I suggest reconciling them by recognizing that the world has different sorts of things in it? There are the things you give, and the things you desire. These are distinct, act appropriately on each. They probably overlap in places, at which point you may need to balance them, but the key to an effectively-lived life is probably to shape the sets to minimize their intersection. The set of things you give is probably more moldable, as you can choose who you give to.

    Are there specific things (time, energy, money) that you find to be particularly in conflict?

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