Practical Philosophy

You Only Control What You Give

We idealize relationships as equal. We think that you should give others — your spouse, your child, your sister, your mother, your teacher, your boss, the world — a quantity of work and energy, and get back something of about the same value to you. That’s why we’re in these relationships.

We know that relationships aren’t really equal. Many of us recognize the outsize debt we owe to our parents, or mentors, or friends. And many of us also recognize the times that we’ve given more than we’ve got — the relationships we walked away from as “bad” or “toxic.”

But for most of us, most of the time, we don’t recognize the extent to which no relationship is equal.

You don’t get back what you give. Even in the most even relationships, its an approximate eventual equality that you get if you weigh 10,000 unquantifiable things out. And sometimes you give a little and the world says “Thanks, but I need even more than that.”

What is interesting and true and complicated and worth working on is your level of awareness and acceptance of this inherent inequality. Because it causes people a great deal of frustration, confusion, and anger in life because they don’t fully understand the fact that they can’t control the world. What they give and what they get don’t sum out to the same thing, not in this universe at least.

When we think we control what we get, we get confused. We get frustrated. We get angry. But we’re just cursing the darkness. You can not make any other entity — a dog, a person, an economy — work in exactly the way you want it to. You can guide, you can cajole, you can try to persuade, but their response is alway their own.

Worry about what you give. Control it. Direct it. Point it toward good things. Do things that you think will lead to good results. If you’re not sure where to direct your energy, spend it finding out. But don’t ever think that you’ll control what you get by what you’re giving. The world is great and beautiful and overflowing with generosity when examined closely, but it’s not under your control. You only control what you give.

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