I understand that many others have probably discussed this subject before, but hey, I don’t know them and I haven’t seen where they posted it. In any case, it might be good to create another venue to discuss this issue, because I believe it’s an issue that hasn’t been settled. Personally, this is something that I haven’t really found an answer to yet. I’m leaving this subject as more of an open question, and an invitation to discuss.
I’ll be the first to admit that I love snacks. In particular, I absolutely enjoy being able to finish an entire batch of chips, crisps, popcorn or peanuts by myself. A large part of it is because I get to gather all the leftover flavoring in the bag with my fingers and lick it off, along with the flavoring that naturally builds up on my fingers. Another reason I enjoy it is because of the feeling of being able to savor the contents of the bag in their entirety, without losing any of it to anyone else.
And I’m usually able to do that when watching movies or series at home. But elsewhere, it’s a very different story.
At work, for example, people in the vicinity of my workspace will come up and ask if they could swipe a few of my chips. Sometimes they do while taking a few pieces, anyway. Of course, I oblige because it’s the proper thing to do.
But that’s the problem. To be clear, I have no issues against sharing with other people. When I feel that I can share, I gladly do so with people I closely know or even with strangers. And of course, I have no right to refuse other people if I only shared in the cost of the food, such as at a night out with friends.
But at this point in the history of our culture and consciousness as human beings, asking someone to share their snacks has become a mere formality. The expectation is there that they will share their snacks, no matter what their disposition is. And the usual consequence of not meeting that expectation is being labeled selfish.
The obvious solution, of course, is to just buy two packs of snacks, share one pack to everyone and solo the other. But what if that option isn’t available due to the store running out of that particular snack, or due to not having enough money at the moment to buy two?
This might seem like a trivial issue, but beneath its supposedly-shallow surface is a set of questions on generosity, which we must now ask ourselves in order to identify the dilemma that has constantly escaped our notice.
- Am I selfish, or maybe even evil, for refusing to share my snack?
- Must I give in to a request at all times, no matter who asks and regardless of my disposition?
- Can generosity be genuine if it is not spontaneous?
The first question is simple enough. It basically asks, “am I a bad person for saying no to others?”
The second question seeks to examine the nature of asking permission as a social interaction. Is it merely a formality?
The third question delves into what generosity is as an inherently human quality. Can it be considered generosity if social norms (and the accompanying penalties for violating them) are only forcing you to give?
My stance on each of those questions is as follows.
- Saying no is not an inherently bad or selfish thing. It’s a valid alternative to saying yes, especially when I don’t feel like saying yes at all. Saying yes all the time can be unhealthy, too. And if I choose to say no, I don’t deserve anyone’s resentment for it. I don’t deserve to be called selfish for it.
- I have no absolute obligation to share with anyone, whoever they may be. I’d like to believe that requesting permission is a proper social interaction, where the one being asked has the full freedom to give or deny permission. If it doesn’t work that way, why ask for permission at all?
- As with most things that are forced, generosity cannot be genuine if it doesn’t come from a conscious and willing decision to give. That’s why it’s called giving, not paying. There cannot be an element of obligation, since generosity by definition is voluntary.
The reason I’m leaving this subject as an open-ended question – despite having a clear stance on it – is that my beliefs are not set in stone. I accept that the answer to this dilemma isn’t that simple, especially when it manifests in situations that are more important than sharing snacks.
My hope is that you turn this into a discussion with me and with others, whether below in the comments, or on Facebook where I’ll be sharing this article. Do tell me what you think about this subject.
Oh, no pressure, of course. Please share your perspective only if you’re willing to. I won’t think worse of you at all for not doing so. That’s a promise.