The Art of Receiving

Christmas 2015

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

[Winston Churchill]

A paragraph in an old Ode magazine article about the art of receiving is a good reminder of the give and take in relationships. It says, Receiving isn’t easy. If it were, more of us would do it with grace and gratitude. Is there a way to change that? Can we learn to receive so we can be nourished and empowered? These are crucial questions, not just because the holiday season is a time when giving and receiving are part of our daily experience. The ability to receive is, in fact, essential to physical health, psychological ­balance and spiritual engagement.

In Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life, John C. Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Mutual Fund Group, explores the boundaries in our relationship with money, the values we should emulate in our business and professional callings, and what we should consider as the true treasures in our lives.

What is enough? The book came out at the culmination of the 2008 financial meltdown. It contains Bogle's investment philosophy and is the culmination of his talks over the years. Enough is the punch line from a delightful Kurt Vonnegut/Joseph Heller story:

“At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds, 'Yes, but I have something he will never have … enough.'”

“Central to the effective functioning of capitalism,” says Bogle, “was the fundamental principle of trusting and being trusted”—and that is disappearing. The central theme's predictability and the author's point of view were anything but common sense at the time of the book's writing and continue to be a good reminder of the unintended consequences of an unbalanced system.

Learning to tell signal form noise is an acquired skill. Especially when considering the trade-offs between giving and receiving, it's useful to apply the purpose filter. For example, much of what seems signal in social networks is about getting — gift points, get reviews, share links, "like" a page. Is there substantive value in this exchange?

Since a very early age, receiving has the largest impact on our lives — the decisions we make, our creations, and the very fabric of what we call living are influenced by how we receive what is on offer.

Whether that be a smile, nature's beauty, a kind word, or an object of desire, the way life bounces off us shapes who we become and what we focus on. We are, in fact, made of butter.


[edited from archives]

[image of butter angels from FINI window in Modena, Italy]

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