Caregiving and Gifts

One day , I was sitting around a table going over a rather dry training with a group of individuals I served, when the idea of gifts came up. This is the idea that people have something that they have been gifted with, by a combination of birth and experience, and that they can give back to the world. Not everyone has the same gift. And not everyone has just one. Some of us know the right jokes to make our friends laugh. Some of us have musical ears that can pick instruments and notes out of a score by listening, and even compose our own pieces. Some of us have smiles that can brighten the darkest days.

That people have gifts is not a novel observation. What is interesting, and what we pinpointed in our conversation, is that gifts can be used for good or for ill. A joke can be made at another’s expense and inflict psychological injury. A composition of music can be made for use as propaganda to further an inhumane cause. And a smile can be used to deceive. Armed with the knowledge that gifts can be used to help people or hurt them, it seems to follow that we have a responsibility, through our shared identity as human beings, to use our gifts rightly.

One of the individuals loves comic book heroes, though also seems drawn to villains. This makes sense, because people are capable of acts that help and acts that hurt, and are drawn to commit both for understandable reasons. And it also makes sense to personify the wars within ourselves, because trying to do the right thing often feels like internal combat, which implies that there are combatants.

It also makes sense that specific types of heroes and villains seem to emerge from the idea of gifts. The flip side of the benevolent scientist who works hard toward a cure for disease is the mad scientist who ruthlessly pursues a research or engineering goal, despite the harm it inflicts on himself or others. A mother who blesses her children with love and warmth, when applying that warmth wrongly, can smother her children and leave them damagingly dependent far into adulthood. And a father can be protective of influences from the outside world, but tyrannical when his rules that protect these influences become too stringent (these ideas of mother and father corresponding, respectively, to the gifts of benevolence and protection are not necessarily dependent on the parent’s sex; regardless, the example holds).

The moral of the story is that all of us have something that we can offer the world. And when we realize the ways in which that gift can be misgiven to others, there emerges a responsibility to ensure the gift’s right use. The responsibility of the caregiver is then not only to identify and develop her personal gifts for proper use (helping people), but also to help identify and develop the gifts of the individuals she serves, and reinforce the importance of their proper use.

After all, it is people with gifts who perpetrate crimes against humanity in gulags, prisons and on street corners. And it is people with gifts who work to halt these crimes and make the world such a place that they do not occur. This is the truth that’s recognized in the holy places of the world’s great religions, the halls of the United Nations and yes, even in the pages of comic books.

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