Do you know what a “men’s room” is? When I first heard the phrase soon after I immigrated to the U.S. from England where I’d been studying, my mind conjured up a big screen television, a comfortable couch, and a BBQ emitting wonderful smells of cooked meat. That’s my men’s room! Instead, I discovered that the term, like washroom, restroom, and bathroom are really all euphemisms for a room designed for relieving oneself.
Why would a society so comfortable with public expression of so many things, appear to be so squeamish about the perfectly natural bodily function of voiding one’s bowels. You’ll pardon me. I don’t mean to be vulgar. However, I do think it important to ask why a society so openly public about every possible variation of sexual pleasure is so uncomfortable about simply saying, “Excuse me but I have to go and empty my bowels.” Why do people instead say, “Excuse me, but I have to use the washroom.” For what—a shower? “Excuse me, but I need a rest room.” Why, are you tired?
Clearly, there is deep-seated discomfort with publicly acknowledging our need to relieve ourselves. Therein lies the clue. It is called ‘relieving oneself’ and not ‘relieving society’ or ‘relieving the world.’ Going to the bathroom is one of the very few human activities that in no way benefits, helps, (or relieves) anyone else other than the person involved. One could say that, necessary though it is, it remains one of the few utterly selfish things that each of us does. Not surprisingly, our souls are embarrassed by it. Not because it is a bodily function, but because we feel subconsciously uncomfortable doing things that benefit only ourselves.
Even when indulging ourselves, say, in the purchase of an ice cream, our action produces other beneficiaries such as the storeowner. This is why we feel no shame at purchasing some desired object. We feel most comfortable as givers and not grabbers.
This is one of the reasons we love bringing children into the world and raising them. They allow us to be givers. We enjoy the sound of ‘Come here, Daddy, I need you.” Children allow us to become similar to that Ultimate Giver in heaven, God Himself who gives so much to His children.
Indeed, we find the great King Solomon emphasizing how giving is in tune with God’s creation.
There are those who give freely and yet prosper while others withhold what they should rightfully give and only come to shortage.
How can giving somehow bring abundance while grabbing and retaining often lead to destitution? This is surely counter-intuitive. However, knowing how the world REALLY works means understanding the mechanisms that God placed into reality.
Whether we are farmers, florists or framers; whether we are ballerinas, builders or beauticians, our abundance depends upon other people purchasing our goods or services. In practice, that means an employer hiring me for the job rather than all the other applicants. It means people patronizing my used car business or my janitorial services. Why do people pick me rather than my competitors? Usually it is more based on my interpersonal skills than because of technical proficiency.
Few of us know where our doctor ranked in medical school or even from which medical school she graduated. We depend upon word of mouth and reputation; in other words, we depend upon how people that we trust feel about the doctor.
Not only do we become embarrassed when we become takers rather than givers, but we are put off by others who appear to be takers. A characteristic that repels potential patients, employers, customers, or clients is projecting the personality of a grabber rather than a giver. The super aggressive salesman, the store clerk almost pleading with you to purchase something, the realtor whose eyes seem constantly focused on his potential commission; these make us uncomfortable. They come across to us as takers not givers. Sometimes it is subconscious. We may not be fully aware of why we are repelled by one vendor and attracted to another. More often than not, it is that our souls are repelled by takers and drawn to givers.
Thus, when I become pleasingly useful to many of God’s other children, I automatically prosper. And the way to do that is to focus on how I can give something long before I focus on what I can get. In so doing I am virtuously imitating God who gives His children so much, asking so little in return. We are indeed correct to feel embarrassed about do things that benefit nobody but ourselves.
One of the things Susan and I treasure doing is helping guide our readers through some of life’s confusing situations. Each week we answer one on the many questions sent to us as people grapple with their families, livelihoods, faith and relationships. We have gathered 101 of the most representative and popular questions and answers into a book, Dear Rabbi and Susan, which we are excited to present. We hope you’ll use it as a way to stimulate conversation and debate—a give and take that benefits everyone.