How do you keep giving when you sometimes feel like people are taking from you?

You must not neglect doing a thing immediately good from fear of remote evil; -from fear of its being abused.”

– Samuel Johnson

How do you keep giving when you sometimes feel like people are taking from you?

This is a question that I have struggled with after spending time living in Haiti. Here, it’s not uncommon for someone to spontaneously ask for a “kado,” or gift—I have had friends and coworkers admire a belonging of mine, and then ask if I would give it to them as a “kado.” A child on the beach asked me for my bottle of water. A young woman at Titanyen asked me to give her the shoes off my feet. When you’re not used to this, it can be disconcerting at first—I always found myself thinking, “I have so much; surely I can afford to give this away.” But then I would wonder if that was really the best response. At the time, I needed some of those things—water, shoes—as much as the person who was asking; why did these people feel entitled to ask for my belongings, and why did I feel guilty for saying no? And did all of these people really need the things they were asking me for…or were they simply taking because I let them? How do you discern necessity from manipulation?

What I have come to realize over time is that in Haiti, many people experience a level of need that I don’t and will not ever fully understand. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up in a country where life is difficult and chaotic; I don’t know what it’s like to never have enough and to constantly worry about where I will get more. I can only imagine the anxiety and insecurity that this would instill in me, and the void I might always be struggling to fill.

When you worry you’re being taken advantage of, it’s easy to become fearful and bitter; the natural instinct is to shut down or close off to avoid being exploited or hurt. To me, the challenge is always to attempt to understand the motivations behind others’ actions, and to recognize the histories behind the individuals. In doing so, it’s surprising how often fear seems to transform into compassion, and bitterness into empathy. Yes, there will always be people that are dishonest and insincere. There will also always be people who are grateful and appreciative, and who are generous in kind. In the face of disappointment in the behavior of others, I have been asked, “Why do you keep expecting things to be different?” But I have to ask…how can we not? To feel that you have so much that it’s easy to give is, in itself, a gift.

by Katie Lawler on March 19, 2015

Be sure to check out Katie’s personal blog @http://katiemarielawler.blogspot.com/ for more regular updates on her life and work at the Saint Damien’s Pediatric Hospital in Tabarre, Haiti.

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One thought on “How do you keep giving when you sometimes feel like people are taking from you?

  1. Katie,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Your words resonated with me. I remember on my second trip to Haiti when I brought some licorice and took a couple pieces out to give to the children, and then in standard American politeness, offered the adult women some by extending the entire bag and expecting the to take just one or two. When the first lady wrapped her hand around the entire amount of 40 or so pieces to take for herself I remember vividly that feeling of offense. I was dumbfounded and didn’t know how to respond. I had no more left to offer the others who didn’t get a piece, but didn’t have any ability to communicate with the lady to ask for some back.

    Since then I have thought a lot about that scene. I recognized that day that my life was very different than hers. I have known security all my life, but I imagine that her life was one of insecurity most days. I tried to put myself in her shoes and think of how I might interact with others when I had something to gain, not knowing when the next opportunity may be. I still struggle between the balance of not creating a system of dependency, and living generously because I have been given opportunity to have much. I was convicted during that trip with a scripture from Proverbs 30: 7-9:

    Proverbs 30:7-9
    The Message (MSG)

    7-9 And then he prayed, “God, I’m asking for two things
    before I die; don’t refuse me—
    Banish lies from my lips
    and liars from my presence.
    Give me enough food to live on,
    neither too much nor too little.
    If I’m too full, I might get independent,
    saying, ‘God? Who needs him?’
    If I’m poor, I might steal
    and dishonor the name of my God.”

    In America, most of us do not have needs that would push us into stealing. Yet, we often live as if we are completely self-reliant, not needing anyone other than ourselves. In Haiti, people do not seem afraid to reveal their dependency, which we all have – just in different ways. Yet, stealing or manipulation is wrong too, but I have often wondered what I would do if I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from.

    Ironically, as I looked up this verse, I searched one chapter too far, and found this verse instead – which seemed very appropriate as well – and with which I’ll end my reply:

    Proverbs 31:8-9
    International Standard Version (ISV)

    8 Speak for those who cannot speak;
    seek justice for all those on the verge of destruction.[a]
    9 Speak up, judge righteously,
    and defend the rights of the afflicted and oppressed.

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