Does Santa Set Boundaries Today? Some thoughts about healthy “selflessness”

in relationships •  2 years ago

Some years ago, someone told me, "No good deed goes unpunished." It was one of those moments when I actually heard what was being said, and thought about it off and on over the years. And just in the last couple days, I was reading something with another quote that seems backward but always rings true along the same lines. I can't find the quote now, and don't remember where I read it, nor the exact way it was said. But it’s about how hard it is for people to forgive someone who has helped them.

I spent some years trying to consciously understand why "good" deeds so often lead to conflicts between people. I came to what I think are some insights...

We have these unconscious banks of good-deed-debts. Each "favor" creates a debt to the good-deed-doer. And favors/good-deeds/"nice"ness can be used very intentionally to manipulate in evil ways. But the one who's supposedly helped doesn't usually ever make statements as truthful as, "I hate needing help, and I hate that I have to (or do) accept your help, and I resent feeling indebted to you for your help, and like you I would rather be the helper than the helped, and there doesn't seem to be any way for me to both continue this relationship and live with dignity, and I am now to the point that I would do anything to free myself from feeling controlled by you..."

An imbalance can get started and grow. And as long as the imbalance goes on, what can happen is the primary helper gets higher status and self-satisfaction -- while the helped gets some form of debt, disempowerment, and the helper's (and her/his witnesses) pity or resentment or some other negative judgment. The underpaid worker. The low-social-status community. The indebted country. The disempowered spouse. The dependent adult child.

The helper might be genuinely generous and truly want/expect nothing in return. To a point. A small debt, a one-time act of kindness from a stranger, occasional requests granted between neighbors... all usually completely tolerable and healthy. The giver might be conscious and tactfully skilled enough to prevent imbalances and resentments with effective boundaries that don’t offend anyone.

But healthy reasonable boundaries can offend. And there's the soul of the one who's "helped" and how they deal with being helped -- either by their nature, or the way they’ve adapted to a status quo over time. In some cases the helped doesn't have a conscience at all. Boundaries enrage them. Or -- for some other reason -- a person receiving help doesn't care or has stopped caring about any imbalance in give/take. They might have stopped believing they have resources to even out the imbalance.

Sometimes the act of accepting help is actually the greater act of kindness, is actually a gift that requires more effort from and imposes more burden on the receiver than the acknowledged giver of the "gift." Accepting help/gift/favor is, or seems to the helped to be, a way to make the helper happy. Husbands do this for wives, and vice versa. Parents do this for kids often. Kids do it for parents, too, often with no recognition. Friends, teachers, students, co-workers do it for each other. It can be healthy. But sometimes the act of letting somebody be the apparent giver/helper/do-gooder isn't healthy. Sometimes the acknowledged helper/giver is actually taking and getting more out of the deal than the acknowledged receiver. How do you state what's really going on? If you try to manage it with an honest conversation, will shaking up the imbalance that the acknowledged helper benefits from, wants, won't admit they are intentionally causing be worth the consequences?

Resisting "kindness" can cause so much conflict. Especially with someone who gets something from keeping the helped powerless, and or inferior, and or indebted, and or dependent.

So how does Santa do it? Does he set boundaries on December 26 so he can keep being the saint we want him to be? Do we grant him the space he needs?

Astrologer, poet, writer Shari Zollinger gifted me with an article she wrote on the topic of “Radical Kindness," in which she included something she calls a list of “kindness clues” from someone by the name of Jeff Haden. It's a good reminder that, in the puzzle of balance in give-and-take, "generosity" can include letting other people be strong and independent. Helping them with it, even.

Generous with praise
Generous with patience
Generous with privacy
Generous with opportunities
Generous with the truth
Generous with love
Generous with independence
Generous with respect

So in the spirit of Santa, and the invincible winter-solstice sun, let’s celebrate our limitless power to give and let give.

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Deeds, eh? Going to give this a read in the morning but from what I gathered it is well written. Good post.


Thank you! Sorry for taking so long to reply!