Growing up, whenever my sister and I had to split dessert, my very, very wise father had a wonderful rule that ensured we’d be fair to each other. He would say, “I cut, you choose.” Such a simple statement made sure that, whoever cut into the cake, cut it as evenly as possible. Otherwise, the other person would clearly choose the larger slice. The point was always to remember that when we choose to divide something, we need to keep the needs/wants of the other person in mind. Over the years, as I enjoyed my fairly distributed slices of cake, I realized that sharing is an interesting concept.
According to Dictionary.com it can be a noun, an adjective, or a verb. For example, when used as a noun it might refer to the part allotted to or belonging to someone, such as a share of stock. When used as an adjective it might refer to sharing data online; as an idiom it might refer to sharing the losses or profits of a company. As a verb, it is used to indicate a division or distribution of something, such as sharing food. What is most interesting is that the definition does not indicate or require that the division/distribution of the item must be done equally like my father suggested. We just like to think that it means everyone gets an equal amount. Well, we like to think that most of the time.
Sharing, to some extent, is natural. It is based on empathy. A child will offer a favorite object to a parent, sibling, or another child if that other person seems distraught. Sharing is also taught. We share food with our children and they learn to share with us. We do not always want their soggy, half eaten offering, but it is important to demonstrate the reciprocity of sharing. Sharing can only happen between or among people; it is not a solitary action. As children grow, we encourage sharing. We tell them to share their toys with others, to take turns, to give a cookie to everyone at the table, to invite everyone in the class to their party.
We not only encourage our children to share, sometimes we demand it of them. If there is a toy they do not want to share, we take it away from them saying, “If you won’t share then no one can have it!” What we fail to realize is that we do not always model that behavior. There are many things we ourselves will not share with everyone. We do not share our cars with every friend; they must be a very particular “status” of friend. We do not share our favorite piece of jewelry with every friend; we must really trust them to return it. Most of us do not share our significant other allowing them to have an intimate, sexual relationship outside of what they have with us. So, a child who does not want to share a special toy feels the same way. If they will not share anything, well, that is a problem. But, it seems to me that to really help them understand sharing, we have to help them understand why they are willing to share some things and not others.
It is important for all of us to examine what makes some “things” – including our feelings, vulnerabilities, secrets – sharable while others are not. The answer is not easy because what we are willing to share varies for all of us. For example, some families purchase duplicate toys so that siblings won’t fight because the need to share has been eliminated. We have multiple televisions, computers, mobile devices of all kinds, so we don’t have to share what we are watching or what music we are listening to – we can all have what we want. I am often concerned that this need to make everyone happy at once will impact our thinking about the power of sharing: it increases our connection to our fellow human beings, allowing us to influence the life of someone else.
If we are given the option to detach ourselves at an early age, it can affect our ability to share as an adult. It is interesting that for many people, it is easier to share (or over-share) what we are doing on social media, rather than to share one’s feelings or to share what we perceive as our weaknesses with those closest to us. Sometimes we fear that what we share will put us at some kind of disadvantage. It will mean we have less – less food, less time, less information that gives us status. It seems that this is a powerful concern in our world today. If I share my wealth, I won’t have enough for me and mine. If I share my knowledge at work, someone younger who can be paid less than I am being paid will replace me. If I share my vulnerabilities, someone will use that against me.
Such thinking is present in our personal relationships and in the larger societal picture. The healthcare debate has become one where we segregate the ill into a separate pool so that the healthy can pay lower premiums. We will let the ill, who have less resources than the healthy, pay more than the healthy do. We will call that fair because we do not want to share the benefits that our health has given us nor do we want to share the burden of the cost of healthcare. I am guessing, however, that when poor health hits “home”, our perspective about sharing will change just a bit.
I say that because it is actually common that when we have the largest amount of something, we don’t really want to share equally. We want to keep the largest portion for ourselves. It seems to me that when we have the largest amount of anything, those very wise words “I cut, you choose” encourage us to consider the reason for our hesitancy to share, allow us to amend our decision based on the facts of the situation rather than on our fears, and, most importantly, guide us to a decision that allows us to embrace our humanity.
“I cut, you choose.” ~ Jerry Chiappise
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