Posted by fxckfeelings on May 17, 2012Share This Post
The danger in generosity is that, whether you’re the one giving or being given to, it’s supposed to make you feel good, but often doesn’t. That’s not to say it’s good to be as selfish as Donald Trump and use your fortune to treat yourself to unlimited gold toilets, but the sad fact is, the guy who wins the lottery and tries to spread the wealth usually winds up hating and being hated by his former friends. If you focus on the long-term good you want to accomplish, however, rather than on the immediate joys of the gift, you’re much less likely to be disappointed, wounded, or punished, and much more likely to make an act of generosity into something meaningful (much more meaningful than a gold toilet).
My brother and I grew up poor, so one of the first things I did after I hit it big with my company was to buy him things. He’s very un-materialistic, but I knew he could use some appliances for his house, and it was my pleasure to get them for him. So I was a little shocked and hurt when he wrote me to say that he would appreciate it if I didn’t get him things. He didn’t explain why, and I knew he wasn’t trying to insult me, but it sure felt like it. Since then, I’ve felt estranged—if he doesn’t want my gifts, I feel like there’s not much to be said, and I’m just not comfortable chatting or dropping by. My goal is to honor his wishes without feeling hurt.
Thank you notes exist because people have strong feelings about the way other people respond to their gifts; it’s like a receipt for a good deed. The act of giving seems meaningless—even hurtful—if there’s no corresponding act of gratitude.
Having experienced poverty, however, you know better; a well-chosen, timely gift can enhance a person’s safety, health, and opportunity and, if the recipient is a family member, and particularly one with children, the positive impact of the gift may outweigh their lack of a positive response.
Perhaps it’s pride that cometh before the follow-up thank you note, or it could just be that he feels some bitterness or jealousy about your success. If that’s a possibility, then the more gifts you give, the nastier he’ll become.
Regardless of whether your brother’s gift-rejection makes you feel hurt or un-giving, don’t give up your basic ideals or change your priorities. No, there’s no point in freshening up his appliances because that won’t make much difference in his life, but that shouldn’t stop you from giving him the gift of your attention and, if it’s not too uncomfortable, your company.
If you spot a situation in which a gift could do some good, do what you think is right; maybe your gift could be covert or anonymous. After all, it’s easy to find someone who will beg and be eternally grateful for gifts that will do no good in the long run. It’s much more gratifying to give a gift that does good for those you love, regardless of whether they give you a nice card in return.
“I feel deflated by my brother’s rejection of my willingness to share my wealth and good luck with him, but I respect his desire not to take advantage of me. I will not change my determination to help him if he really needs it and I will do my best to avoid making him feel beholden.”
I’m mad at my father and really shouldn’t be. He means well, but he likes to give money to his kids without thinking of how much he has in the bank. It was a large fortune after he received my late mother’s life insurance, but after all his generosity, it’s now dwindling. I’m hard working and independent and ask him for nothing, but my brother has never worked and never hesitates to ask him for everything. You see where this is going? My father will go broke and I’ll be taking care of him because my brother is shameless and lazy. I don’t want to be angry at him or my brother, and my goal is to figure out a better solution so I don’t end up getting screwed.
You’re right to be proud of your independence and to ignore your anger about your father’s over-generosity to your deadbeat brother. Of course it’s not fair, but you’ve avoided the f-word, fair, because fairness is not your main concern.
You recognize that the family fortune is also the family safety net, and that your father’s mismanagement is creating big problems for the future. By the time the last of the savings have been spent on plasma TVs, your father may require medical care and your brother will have no idea how to adjust to living in the real world. You’re the whistle-blower, but it’s a whistle only non-family members can hear.
Having put aside your anger, you can express your worries in economic terms that your father may be (slightly) more willing to hear and that he can’t dismiss as motivated by brotherly resentment. You want him to set aside enough money to ensure his independence, and you’re willing to sit down with him and a financial planner to figure out how much is needed and how it should be invested.
If nothing else works, you might mention your desire to accept a share of his handouts. No, you’re not arguing that you need the money as badly as your brother, because it’s always dangerous to get into discussions of who’s more deserving. Accept it gratefully for whatever reason your father wishes to give it to you and then, if you can, use it to salvage the safety net for when your brother has spent everything else on rims and iPads.
Don’t get discouraged if you can’t stop the drain of the family coffers. All you can do is offer good advice and manage your own family finances, which is what you are doing. No matter what happens, the future will bring hard choices that you’re not responsible for preventing, just managing and surviving.
“It’s scary to watch my father create his own guaranteed fiscal crash, but I know he means well, he loves his kids, and his weakness is one I can’t change. If I see a way to protect us, I will do it. Otherwise, I’ll try to accept what I can’t change, prepare for the future, and enjoy our time together.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname