Steinbeck – on Receiving

From – The Log From the Sea of Cortez,  John Steinbeck
It speaks for itself.

Ed Ricketts, courtesy Pat Hathaway, *www.cavie...

Ed Ricketts, courtesy Pat Hathaway, *www.caviews.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have tried to isolate and inspect the great talent that was in Ed Ricketts, that made him so loved and needed and makes him so missed now that he is dead.  Certainly he was an interesting and charming man, but there was some other quality which far exceeded these.  I have thought that it might be his way of accepting a gift gracefully and thankfully and to make the gift seem very fine.  Because of this everyone felt good in giving to Ed — a present, a thought, anything.  
Perhaps the most overrated virtue in our list of shoddy virtues is that of giving.  Giving builds up the ego of the giver, makes him superior and higher and larger than the receiver.  Nearly always, giving is a selfish pleasure, and in many cases it is a downright destructive and evil thing.  One has only to remember some of our wolfish financiers who spend two-thirds of their lives clawing fortunes out of the guts of society and the latter third pushing it back.  It is not enough to suppose that their philanthropy is a kind of frightened restitution, or that their natures change when they have enough.  Such a nature never has enough and natures do not change that readily.  I think that the impulse is the same in both cases.  For giving can bring the same sense of superiority as getting does, and philanthropy may be another kind of spiritual avarice.  
It is easy to give, so exquisitly rewarding.  Receiving, on the other hand, if it be well done, requires a fine balance of self-knowledge and kindness.  It requires humility and tact and great understanding of relationships.  In receiving you cannot appear, even to yourself, better or stronger or wiser than the giver, although you must be wiser to do it well.
It requires a self-esteem to receive — not self -love but just a pleasant acquaintance and liking for oneself.  
Once Ed said to me, “For a very long time I didn’t like myself.”  It was not said in self-pity but simply as an unfortunate fact.  “It was a very difficult time,” he said, ” and very painful.  I did not like myself for a number of reasons, some of them valid and some of them pure fancy.  I would hate to have to go back to that.  Then gradually,” he said, “I discovered with surprise and pleasure that a number of people did like me.  And I thought, if they can like me, why cannot I like myself?  Just thinking it did not do it, but slowly I learned to like myself and then it was all right.”
This was not said in self-love in its bad connotation but in self-knowledge.  He meant literally that he had learned to accept and like the person “Ed” as he liked other people.  It gave him a great advantage.  Most people do not like themselves at all.  They distrust themselves, put on masks and pomposities.  They quarrel and boast and pretend and are jealous because they do not like themselves.  But mostly they do not even know themselves well enough to form a true liking, and since we automatically fear and dislike strangers, we fear and dislike our stranger-selves.  
Once Ed was able to like himself he was released from the secret prison of self-contempt.  Then he did not have to prove superiority any more by any of the ordinary  methods, including giving.  He could receive and understand and be truly glad, not competitively glad.  
Ed’s gift for receiving made him a great teacher.  Children brought shells to him and gave him information about the shells.  And they had to learn before they could tell him.
In conversation you found yourself telling him things–thoughts, conjectures, hypotheses — and you found a pleased surprise at yourself for having arrived at something you were not aware that you could think or know.  It gave you such a good sense of participation with him that you could present him with this wonder.
Then Ed would say, “Yes, that’s so.  That’s the way it might be and besides –” and he would illuminated it but not so that he took it away from you.  He simply accepted it.
Although his creativeness lay in receiving, that does not mean that he kept things as property.  When you had something from him it was not something that was his that he tore away from himself.  When you had a thought from him or a piece of music or twenty dollars of a steak dinner, it was not his — it was yours already, and his was only the head and hand that steadied it in position toward you.  For this reason no one was ever cut off from him.  Association with him was deep participation with him, never competition.  
I wish we could all be so.  If we could learn even a little to like ourselves, maybe our cruelties and angers might melt away.  Maybe we would not have to hurt one another just to keep our ego-chins above water.
There it is.  That’s all I can set down.

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