Have you ever noticed that the motivation behind giving and serving is different?
For many of us, we give with expectations attached, but when we serve, we don’t expect anything in return.
The definitions of giving and serving have only subtle differences. To serve is defined as performing duties or services. The end result is to create satisfaction for another. To give has multiple meanings as well: to make a present, provide, hand over.
When we’re given a gift or someone’s phone number, there is an expectation that something will be returned to us, like a thank you note or a phone call.
These expectations are inherently instilled by what was modeled to us while growing up and from our own life experiences. When our expectations are unrealistic, we are bound to be disappointed.
Often when we serve, we come from a pure-hearted place of providing gratification to another without expecting anything in return. Providing satisfaction fulfills a need greater than giving. We have no expectations after these actions are taken.
Some of us may work to be a best friend to someone by showing up when needed, doing thoughtful things for them, and going out of our way to show we care. If we are someone with certain friendship expectations or someone who calls first and frequently, we might expect the same in return.
And if we are someone who thinks it’s unfair when another doesn’t reciprocate our gestures, it’s important for us to ask ourselves these questions:
>> What do we expect in return?
>> Do we give with strings attached?
>> Have any of our friendships ended with disappointment or feeling let down?
>> Are we giving to this person because we expect something in return?
There are also familial expectations.
For instance, the expectation to fulfill obligations was emphasized in my home growing up. Admittedly, these created solid values and habits: writing thank you notes for gifts, attending specific events and rituals, and wearing the appropriate clothing to a particular venue.
There’s no doubt these values were instilled with love; however, sometimes it felt like I couldn’t do enough to repay what had been given to me.
Worrying about doing the right thing felt more important than what I wanted to do in my heart. Although never spoken out loud, our family operated under these unwritten rules:
“If I do this for you, you better come through and do that for me.”
“Look what I’ve done for you, given you, bent over backwards for you.”
“You owe me.”
These unhealthy patterns made me feel smothered, and as a young person I didn’t realize I had a choice in how I reacted. I eventually learned I could trust my own feelings and hold my own moral compass. I could have thoughts and beliefs similar to my family’s which also felt authentic to me.
How do we change our expectations?
I’ve noticed how wound up we can get when we think a stranger owes us something. What would happen if we didn’t cling to our expectations of strangers? The truth is, they don’t owe us a thing. They don’t owe us an explanation as to why they are doing their job poorly or why they cut us off in traffic.
Yet, we expect them to fit into a defined role or title based on their work badge.
We can all change our relationship with expectations when we learn to let go of projected outcomes and realize nobody owes us a thing.
It’s okay for people to be disappointed if we don’t fulfill their expectations. While it feels great to give, and we hope to make people feel appreciated when we give, we are not responsible for their reactions.
We can consciously choose to practice the art of serving. Here are some things we may notice when we shift from a mindset of giving to one of serving:
>> Serving is genuine, from the heart, and requires nothing in return.
>> Serving frees us from having any strings attached.
>> Serving could be related to karma.
>> Serving pays it forward.
>> Serving grows like the roots of a tree and connects us all.
It is possible for all of us to shift our expectations when interacting with both loved ones and strangers. When we aim to serve instead of give, we may be pleasantly surprised at the difference in how it feels for everyone involved.
There’s a delicate balance between having expectations and stating our expectations.
It takes practice, just like knowing when to speak up for how we would like to be treated and realizing when we should walk away. I remind myself that how people treat us is their business and how we react is ours. All we can do is model love and kindness, hoping it will come back and impact the world around us.
Releasing these expectations allows us to have radical acceptance of others and love them exactly as they are.
We can release the judgment about how people return their support to us by realizing they show up in a way that is most comfortable to them. Honoring each person’s unique character can allow us to embrace acceptance for everyone despite our differences.
Spiritual teacher and author, Ram Dass says it best:
“When you go out into the woods, and you look at the trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the trees and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree. The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. You are constantly saying, ‘You are too this, or I’m too this.’ That judgement mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means just appreciating them just the way they are.”
Author: Shelley Karpaty
Image: Evan Kirby Unsplash
Apprentice Editor: Rachel Dehler / Editor: Kenni Linden
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis
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