The Givers, the Takers, and the Space Between

The space between
The tears we cry
Is the laughter that keeps us coming back for more

Dave Matthews, The Space Between

“Energy is your most precious resource.” So began a recent conversation with one of my leaders. To lead anything is to place yourself squarely in the perpetual tug of war between people, expectations, and your own hopes and dreams. To accept leadership is to plug yourself into the ebb and flow of conflicting demands, responsibility, and depletion that comes from disorder, imbalance, or disruption. We often talk about aiming for balance but what we’re really acknowledging is the internal and external battle for our energy. Under pretty much any circumstances, it’s a lot.

The Takers

All of us live as a taker in one way, shape, or form. Family life is full of competing demands. Press it up against anything else and we find ourselves at war with a world bent on draining us dry. In this war, we are all givers and takers. Both can take many forms. We encounter takers externally in the form of individuals who seek to force their will upon us for their own ends. Think of drivers who cut us off, turn at intersections with “no turn” signals, or make other illegal moves at our expense to get where they want to go. Another example is telemarketers or door-to-door sales people who interrupt us in the hopes of selling their wares.

Less anonymously are the takers closer to us who legitimately need us for guidance, empathy, forgiveness, or simply our attention. Those who we willingly and lovingly give of ourselves. Often, giving here is self-replenishing, ordered. However, pressed up against competing demands it can become depleting in our own effort to give fully in many directions. Our energy is a finite resource and even those we love the most can take it in the most innocent fashion.

In our work worlds, we encounter takers on a continuum ranging from energy vampire to those with legitimate claims to our time and energy. We too live on this curve with those we encounter. Taking isn’t always the nefarious action of some thief bent upon stealing our joy or peace.

Energy takers aren’t just limited to the other human beings in our life. Situations and things consume energy as quickly as other people. A recent story about one of our patients struggling with diabetes reminded me of how struggle can take our energy. This patient told us of her battle to afford her medications amid other priorities and the lengths she would go trying to juggle all of them. The act of survival can certainly sap our energy.

The Space Between

The patient called to thank our team for help in removing financial, access, and knowledge barriers related to the management of her diabetes. Along the way, she improved her health and wellbeing, however, it was the “space it created” in her life that she credited for a return to peace and joy. A major part of the drain on her energy turned out to be the stress and time it took to triage the competing demands on her money, health, and family. Removing the barriers created space for her to feel better physically as well as emotionally as it made energy available to make healthier choices, be more active, and to give of herself more fully to her family.

The notion of creating space struck me as a profound insight into the dramatic energy drains that press upon us daily. What sits between the here of less energy and the there of more? The here of anxiety and the there of peace? The here of despair and the there of hope? The here of depletion and the there of fullness?

There are things that take space and things that create space. We live with the angels and vampires of our lives, the people and things that consume space and energy, and the people and things that create space and energy. We exist with the people and things that deplete and distract as well as the people and things that energize and help us focus. What do we get with space? Room to think. Room to act. Room to hope. Room to try. Room to love. Flourishing requires space. Thriving needs room.

The Givers

What are the givers in your life? Look around at the people and things taking space in your days, weeks, months, and years. Look at the rooms full of stuff consuming square footage and the energy they demand. Look at the activities absorbing time, filling limited moments, and demanding precious energy. Look at the worries lying bloated and ravenous within the rooms of your heart, crowding out the open expanse needed for peace to thrive. Perhaps it’s time for some house cleaning. Pruning paves the way for new life.

Now, look at yourself. Giver or taker? Do you take energy or give it? Do you create hope or steal it? Do you inspire or drain? See all of the corridors you travel. Visualize the roads on which you drive. Consider the conversations you share and the moments in the lives of others in which you appear. Are you creating space or taking it?

We will always be both giver and taker. We will often fail to maintain well, keep order, or avoid taking unnecessarily or excessively. But we can be aware. We can remain vigilant for the signs of drain, depletion, and consumption. Look with the eyes of a giver and you will see where you take. Strive to create space for others and you will find less room to take.

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