Some years ago a successful businessman said to me in a rather ironical and negative frame of mind: "Everybody I meet is either trying to get something from me or I am trying to get something from him." He spoke these words in a manner that would indicate that you have got to take your success from life because somebody is trying to take that success from you. Coming from one who was looked up to not only by his own employees but by his neighbors and friends as a successful man, these words gave food for thought. Of course he was looking at his bit of philosophy from the material point of view, but for a long time after that conversation his words clung to me. Finally the real value and the real truth lying behind those words made itself known. It became apparent that he was right without any doubt, but not in his application to that which experience had revealed to him. He had failed to grasp the positive approach to a basic truth.
If we really stop to think we will recognize that what he said, when applied constructively, is absolutely true. Everyone we meet, from the time we get up in the morning until we go to bed at night, offers the opportunity for us to receive something from him, or the opportunity for us to give something to him. It cannot be otherwise, because in the course of human events and that natural intercourse of communication that takes place from day to day between ourselves and our fellow men, there is that constant exchange of giving and receiving, receiving and giving. We do it unconsciously most times. Either we have given or we have received. But let us not limit this to its material application — even if we do give a dime to the man who asks for a cup of coffee or give something to the Red Cross solicitor, or receive a present of material value. Let us get beneath this giving and receiving and try to ferret out its true sense and the relationship and the exchange that takes place. Isn't it in reality the very basis upon which life rests, and upon which you and I and all of us together obtain our strength and our growth, particularly our inner strength and growth? If we really think seriously about this simple bit of philosophy we will not only find practical assistance in the solution of the problems and the situations which confront us from day to day; but we will find in so doing that which makes life worthwhile, interesting and zestful, full of the power of spiritual recognition of what life really must be.
Most of us have had the experience of doing a little kindness to someone who never expected it, least of all from us, and have felt the reaction to that kindness in that we have been stronger and have received much more in reality than we gave. On the other hand, I hope we also have had the experience of unexpectedly receiving a kind word from someone whom we least expected would give us a kind word or a kind bit of assistance or understanding. We can recall when this occurred, the warmth and the deep feeling of gratitude and appreciation that flowed through our whole consciousness. For a fleeting moment, and perhaps longer, we felt that something which is indefinable that is common to all of us — that high quality of goodness that resides in each human being, regardless of appearances. To experience that is a blessing, not merely a blessing of the moment, but a fortune at our door, that fortune which is ours when we recognize that there is a common thread of high quality that is lying dormant in each of us, waiting to find expression.
We have heard and read many high-sounding phrases, many appealing philosophies, many exhortations of one kind or another as to what we should do or what we should not do, how we should live, and so on. But let us not miss the simple things in life, those very simple things which we stumble over from day to day that have within them the key to a fuller understanding and appreciation of what this life of ours is. It often becomes humdrum with all our responsibilities, personal and otherwise; and with the many failures that we experience we are inclined to be discouraged and say: "What is life worth anyway?" But is it not true that we do pass by some of those very truths which would help us not only to understand life, but give us the strength and the ability to recognize more of those truths as we go along life's highway?
Have we ever stopped to realize what the effect of these simple truths would mean if there were greater numbers who tried to utilize them in their daily lives? Most of you have attended a football game where there was a tremendously large assemblage of individuals, sixty, seventy, eighty thousand or more. When the spirit of the game and the spirit of sportsmanship prevailed momentarily, and the music and the demonstrations of unified effort were manifest, I think most of us can visualize what could happen if thousands upon thousands upon thousands were working from day to day with a like spirit in their hearts, supporting some simple truth that carried with it the spiritual enlightenment that we are seeking. It is not hard to see what influence, what effect, such a positive and constructive force would have on the world at large and on the thoughts and actions of the great mass of humanity.
What is it about Christmas, for example, that makes it so easy for us to give and to receive and to receive and to give — presents. The presents are unimportant, but the spirit of exchange is vital. It is vital to the life of every individual. There is something in the air at Christmas time, hard to define, but it is without doubt that universal recognition of the real value of receiving as well as of giving. Let us reverse that, of giving as well as receiving. And the presents that we exchange are symbolic of that dormant quality in the nature of each one of us that is quietly but surely striving for expression — expression in the simple ways of life.
Why cannot this brotherly spirit that exists at Christmas time be carried on through the year? Again we must be practical. Mankind as a whole has not reached that point in his growth where he has the strength developed to carry forward, day in and day out, year in and year out, the application of this spirit. The time will come when such will be the case. But we must face life and its realities as they exist now. We can only move forward from where we stand by taking the first step, and from that step, another step. Let us be grateful above all things at this time that there is the spirit of Christmas — the spirit of giving and receiving, understandingly, and that it does find expression. While it may not seem to pay dividends in a material way, we cannot deny the value of the warmth of the sunshine that glows in our hearts when that spirit of Christmas is flowing through our consciousness. And by this very token we cannot deny the fact that to the degree that we attempt to carry that spirit forward in a practical way each day, will we recognize that each person whom we meet, whether he is conscious of the fact or not, or whether we are conscious of the fact or not, comes to us to receive something that only we can give, or if he is the giver, he has come to give something that only he can give to us.
This natural circumstance as we follow it through in our thoughts and observations can prove to be the greatest boon in the life and in the spirit of a progressing humanity, and in no great time will its application be felt on a much larger scale. Then the spirit of Christmas will bloom through all seasons of the year.
(From Sunrise magazine, December 1951; copyright © 1951 Theosophical University Press)