I recently wrote a couple pieces about sharing for Grist, and it’s been well-timed. As I mentioned here previously, I am – for the first time – living alone, and I have found it difficult beyond imagining; the existential distress at such isolation (I am carless, Internet-less, and far) is more than I ever anticipated. But one pleasant consequence of my aloneness is the full realization of how much other people, both generally and as individuals, mean to me. I’ve also lately had the chance to go through all of my belongings and give away numerous things to friends, and one friend in particular. At a gathering at her house a couple weeks ago, one of her roommates commented on all the presents I had brought; I was deemed to be good at sharing. Well, I said without thinking, sharing is awesome, because it means that you have people to share things with.
I don’t think I could have ever articulated the core of sharing – of community – so concisely before living alone. In fact, don’t think I even knew it. Sharing is taught to children as a chore, an obligation rather than a celebration, but it is what we share with others that is most often the greatest source of joy in our lives; whether tangible or beyond our grasp it all effervesces into memory, liquid with time, and only that which is held in common can ever hope to last.
A related truism is also taught to children: ‘tis better to give than to receive. Particularly for those of us bent towards activism or service it can be a challenge to outgrow the simplicity of this formulation, the falseness of its dialectic; for giving and receiving are not binary conditions. They do not stand in opposition to one another but rather occupy interpenetrated spaces on the fluid spectrum of sharing.
A Facebook friend of mine, an AmeriCorps member from a different part of the country with whom I worked for one glorious chilly week in Pittsburgh, posted about this topic. She is a devout Christian and phrased it in religious terms but the sentiment is unbounded by denomination – sick with the flu she struggled to accept the ministrations of friends but then paused, thought on her own eagerness to assist others in need, and recognized the importance of accepting what others have to offer. Receipt, she said, is as gracious a state as giving, for it is only by receiving that we allow others to give; it is only by receiving that we admit the giver to know the grace of giving. To insist on the primacy of giving is to encourage a sort of hoarding of grace, whereas when we receive with gratitude and openness we might propagate grace in others, sharing generously in the kind potluck of life and each taking a turn at the banquet.
To write these things out they seem self-evident, tediously so, and for some I suppose they are – but the cultural framework within which such concepts as giving, receiving, and sharing are usually discussed creates a different and false meaning, capable of obscuring even obvious truths. What we teach children about sharing is all wrong: it is not a chore, not done from obligation or self-improvement or pity or superiority but the fundamental act of community, itself the most basic truth of the human condition.