Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Receiving well

I wrote recently that the Internet may not be changing giving so much as receiving. In honor of the 28th Steinbeck Festival (which just concluded) here is John Steinbeck, writing in 1951, on what it takes to be good at receiving:
"Certainly he was an interesting and charming man, but there was some other quality that far exceeded these. I have thought that it might be his ability to receive, to receive anything from anyone, to receive gracefully and thankfully, and to make the gift seem very fine. Because of this everyone felt good in giving to Ed--a present, a thought, anything.

Perhaps the most overrated virtue in our list of shoddy virtues is that of giving. Giving builds up the ego of the giver, makes him superior and higher and larger than the receiver...It is so easy to give, so exquisitely rewarding. Receiving, on the other hand, if it is well-done, requires a fine balance of self-knowledge and kindness. It requires humility and tact and great understanding of relationships. In receiving, you cannot appear, even to yourself, better or stronger or wiser than the giver, although you must be wiser to do it well.

It requires self-esteem to receive--not self-love but just a pleasant acquaintance and liking for oneself."

John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez, Appendix, ""About Ed Ricketts"", Penguin Books, 1951, pp. 272-3

Thanks, Rikki!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for identifying the other end of the giving relationship and highlighting Steinbeck's wise words on the subject. Do you think the internet allows people to "mature" in their receiving behavior? Does it provide a platform to let us realize this "pleasant acquaintace" with ourselves?

Lucy Bernholz said...

What a great set of questions...in light of other conversations happening on this blog in terms of marketized giving and embedded advertising - which are also asking questions about how internet and markets change giving/receiving, I'd have to say "I have no idea." Mature receiving, the kind of attributes Steinbeck describes so graciously, seem to me to be the result of parenting, worldview, humility, experience - so many things that may have nothing to do with immediate communication technologies (e.g. internet). What do you think? Will the ability to be in touch directly with donors, to aggregate small donations, speed up interaction, present multimedia - any of the things that the internet freely enables have an impact on how we receive?