My husband Ron always complains about the English language. He was born in New Jersey, so maybe that complicated his relationship to language in general, since New Jersey’s favorite choices of adjectives in most conversations are not supposed to be part of polite language. But somehow, when you’re in the Garden State, expressions like, “No way!” or “You’re kidding,” lack oomph without the F word. However, Ron’s issue is not with expletives; he hates that we spell words not as they sound; that we have words that are spelled the same but mean completely opposite things, and that one word can have a dozen definitions. Take the word give.
Sometimes we only focus on one definition without realizing a word’s myriad applications in our daily speech. In recent years, we’ve been conditioned to think “give” means material goods: giving gifts, money, stuff. But we use the word and idea of give in countless ways without ever pondering how generous we really are. “I give up! I gave her so many chances; I’m just not giving in this time. I give her another month on this job before she gives me an ulcer. I give you my word, it will give me great pleasure to see what gives when the boss sees how she gives new meaning to useless.”
A recent birth brought the world population to seven billion. It occurred to me that one reason we are not curbing the world’s population is that the evil empire that rules the world and brainwashed us all to buy large screen TVs, Ipads, Elmo dolls and fuzzy dice for our cars needs more consumers. Instead you and I (especially the boomers) are trying to save money, and sometimes actually getting rid of our stuff. After decades of accumulating, we are realizing we no longer need that potato ricer, the tennis racquet we haven’t touched in ten years, or the gold lamé jacket from our disco days. (Some things are harder to give up than others.) And we don’t need to buy another LL Bean jacket or orchid pot or giclee of a Tuscan sunset. If more babies don’t grow up to buy stuff soon, stores and online merchants will be drowning in low-rise yoga pants, coffeemakers and smartphones. And what will happen to China if they can’t manufacture millions of computers, logo laden shirts and flammable pajamas? There are actually people all over the world who are finding that the thrill is gone from consuming. There’s already a “Don’t Buy Anything” Day. The real revolution may not be on Wall Street, but at Wal-Mart, if people actually decide that this holiday season, they will re-think the definition of give.
I’m looking at my list and here’s what I’m giving. To my sister who has everything, I’m giving up my need to be right. I’m giving my other sister my word that I’ll never try to give her advice. (Wow, that’s a double give!) I can’t wait when Ron opens his gift to find that I am officially giving in on our thirty-five-year battle as to who loads the dishwasher better. I am spilling with generosity.
Neurologist Antonio Damasio, in his book Descarte’s Error, states that altruism is a survival strategy. When we give to others, they love us more and so therefore probably won’t kill us. It’s nice to know that we are wired to give.
What would it be like if all of us intentionally gave up, gave in and gave promises we actually kept? It’s interesting to note that if you trace the etymology of our English word “give,” that it travels eastward where the root word actually means “take,” and finally lands in India where the Sanskrit root means “hand.” When I give up or give in, my hands are open, and when I give you my word, I give you my hand. And when someone smiles at me and says, “I’ve got to hand it to you, you are awesome,” I feel like I’ve received a gift more precious than a pair of skinny jeans. What do you say: shall we give it a go? Or as they say in New Jersey, “It’s about f&*%ing time we give a f&*% about each other.”
Lavinia gives classes for anyone who wants to receive the benefits of the Feldenkrais Method and the Creative Body. Laviniaplonka.com.com