To Give or To Receive?

by Simon Goland, December 8, 2008

Today’s Reflection is about another perspective of looking at our deeply and profoundly interconnected world, where nothing exists in isolation, and everything impacts, affects, and depends on everything else.

The following is a story Keli told me, about a live performance Prince gave in Vancouver a long time ago; I hope that in retelling it, I will do the story as much justice as it deserves.

Prince. Live performance. Crowds. Music. And everything else that accompanies such an event. At some point, Prince stops playing, turns to the audience, and asks: “What’s better, to give or to receive?”

“To give,” scream some. “To receive,” shout others.

He repeats his question. In return, even more screaming and shouting and noise, all variations of the same answers. He points to a woman, screaming from her seat in the front row: “What is better, to give or to receive?”

“To give!” is her reply.

“OK,” says Prince. “You are saying that to give is better than to receive?” Her loud “Yes” carries through the whole space, as he raises his hand and quiets the audience.

“I want you then,” he says, pointing to the woman, “to give your seat to someone at the very last row and go sit there instead. Trade places.”

Silence descends on the whole place.

“What is better, to give or to receive?” he asks again.

By now, the silence is palpable and the audience can feel, sense, taste, and touch it. It is as if time stands still. He repeats the question again. Now the silence is heavy, drawing people deeper and deeper into themselves. Nothing moves.

He then invites the woman from the front row to the stage. Assistants bring pillows and make a comfortable and cozy area for her to sit, right there, in the center of the stage. He turns his back to the whole audience and performs a song – facing the woman, singing just for her.

“You cannot teach an ego to be anything but egotistic, even though egos have the subtlest ways of pretending to be reformed. The basic thing is therefore to dispel, by experiment and experience, the illusion of oneself as a separate ego.” – Alan Watts

When the song is over, he turns to the audience and asks again, “What is getter – to give or to receive?”

There is still silence in the space, yet it is different now. Somehow, it is more gentle, contemplative, intimate. “You cannot have one without the other,” says Prince.

I keep coming back to this story, time and time again, in a variety of situations and circumstances. How true his message is. Some weeks ago, I witnessed a profoundly beautiful, touching, and inspiring ceremony, where a group of students and faculty acknowledged and appreciated a program dean, who has contributed immensely to an MBA school, from the very beginning. She is now taking a short sabbatical, and in an opening circle, people stood up and acknowledged her contribution to the school and their own lives. Beyond the appreciations themselves, one of the things that touched me the most was observing her receive the appreciations – gracefully, humbly, without trying to avoid or deflect the kind words that were shared with her in front of a group of about a hundred people.

One cannot fully give, if the message is not being fully received. The giver and the receiver depend on each other for a full experience of grace, kindness, appreciation, and love. Without such relationship of interdependence, there is no giver and no receiver.

“The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events – that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies – and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.” – Alan Watts

This is It
and I am It
and You are It
and so is That
and He is It
and She is It
and It is It
and That is That.
– James Broughton

A sunny week to you all, inside and out.