When It’s Better to Receive than Give

Everyone has heard the old saying, “It’s better to give than to receive.” Parents teach their children this philosophy from an early age because that’s what their parent taught them; that, and the fact that no one wants their children to grow up to become selfish, self-centered adults. When children are very young, there’s a time for them to be selfish; it’s part of the developmental learning process as they figure out how much control they have over their own surroundings. But as they grow and mature, it’s good for kids to learn that the world doesn’t center solely on them. Instilling the notion that it’s better to give than to receive creates kind, caring adults who open-heartedly reach out to others, build healthy relationships, and give back to the community and the world.

I could go on and on with this topic. I touched on it in a previous post, and I may very well revisit it in a future blog post; this is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. I feel blessed that I had parents who provided a good example of this philosophy in action. Through their volunteer efforts, I learned at an early age that giving to others makes you feel good yourself and it’s a good practice to cultivate. One thing my parents didn’t teach me, however, is how to receive. For many people, both men and women, this is a much harder lesson to absorb.

When I was first diagnosed with heart failure and discovered that I needed a heart transplant at the ripe old age of 40, I was shocked, to say the least. Here I was, a successful business owner and entrepreneur, father of three, living my life as well as I knew how, staying in shape, being active, being involved in my church…and BAM! I discovered that only 10% of my heart was working due to an airborne virus that I picked up somewhere on life’s highway. I never saw it coming and certainly wasn’t prepared to take time off work to deal with it. But that’s exactly what I had to do as I entered the hospital for surgery, spent time in recovery, and then adjusted to life with a heart that runs on a battery pack.

As I recovered from surgery, friends, family, and business acquaintances started reaching out to offer help. At first, I assumed they were just being polite. That’s what you say to people in challenging situations, right? “Let me know if you need help.” But does anyone really mean it or is it just a platitude? I assumed it was the latter; I appreciated the well-wishes but didn’t give them much credence. After all, people are so busy with their own lives, they certainly wouldn’t want to take the time to help with mine. However, as it turns out, I was completely wrong. These people were serious.

While I was out of commission and recovering from surgery, my employees helped keep the business moving forward. My salespeople worked extra hard to keep new sales coming in the door. My kids helped out more around the house. And acquaintances and business partners from the construction industry reached out to join forces and keep our Roofs 4 Heroes program going, even going so far as to donate materials. I was amazed at the outpouring of kindness but honestly, it made me a bit uncomfortable. You see, I was raised to be the provider and take care of others, not to be the one being taken care of. I had never learned how to be on the receiving end of someone’s nurturing, supportive efforts and it felt strange.

Through my conversations with some of these amazing individuals, I discovered that the Law of Reciprocity is alive and well. It’s not just something that New Age gurus and self-help authors tout in books and podcasts; nor is it merely a hypothetical concept preached from the pulpit on Sundays. It’s real, and it was playing out in my own life.

According to international best-selling author and motivational speaker Brian Tracy, the Law of Reciprocity states that if you do something for me, I’ll then feel obligated to do something for you in return. People like to feel that they’re on an even keel with others so it spurs reciprocal behavior. For example, if we go to lunch together and I buy, then the next time we go to lunch you’ll likely feel like picking up the tab to return the favor. This is the Law of Reciprocity in action on a business level, which is where Brian Tracy operates since he’s a best-selling sales coach and mentor.

I actually prefer a slightly different variation of the Law of Reciprocity, one found in 2 Corinthians 9:6-71: “The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” I like this explanation of the Law of Reciprocity because it advocates giving willingly with an open heart, with no expectation of receiving anything in return. It’s similar to what Brian Tracy promotes but with the added touch of open-heartedness, a topic that’s on my mind a lot these days, for obvious reasons.

In speaking with the people who offered help while I was recovering from surgery, I discovered that they were moved to do so by my willingness to give to others who had a need. They saw how important my Roofs 4 Heroes program was to me and how much I enjoyed the act of giving to people. When they heard that I was now the one who could use some help, they decided to reach out. I was blown away by everyone’s kindness and generosity. It made me feel loved and respected. It gave me goosebumps. And eventually, I was able to relax into the flow, open my heart, and just receive the love.

Yes, it’s good to give to others, but it’s equally important to be able to receive from others when it’s your turn. Kind-hearted people want to give; don’t deny them the opportunity. If you should find yourself in a similar situation where you’re the one in need, and people are reaching out to help, my advice is to relax into it and know that somewhere along life’s path, you’ve done something good for someone else. It’s coming back to you now as a precious gift. Accept it. Embrace it. You’ve earned it.