Sunday, November 26, 2006

Pearls before Swine

Lately one particular biblical passage keeps coming into my mind: “Do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6)

These words and the spirit of giving that permeates (but is not limited to!) the holiday season have got me thinking about gifts. Gifts tangible, gifts immaterial, gifts acknowledged, and gifts given only in the quiet of our own hearts. And the value of gifts. A gift has value in the eyes of the giver, and in the eyes of the gifted. If these don’t match, is there any absolute, objective value for a gift?

If you’re raised a Christian like I’ve been, you’ve heard the parable of the master who gave talents to his servants in proportion to their desserts, and rejoiced in the servants that cultivated and multiplied his gifts, but was angry with the servant, who for fear of losing the one talent he was given, went and hid it, and had no more to show than the one talent when his master came back. God, I believe, has an absolute value that He places on the gifts He gives us, and that value is not changed by how other people feel about them, or by how we feel about them. If we don’t like them, we might not use them well, and might derive no more blessing from them, but still they have that value in His eyes.

But I’ve been thinking about things on a more human level.

Back to the pearls before swine. I try every day to be myself, completely and unconditionally. And yes, I’m arrogant enough to see this as a gift I give to the world in general. I mean, I feel like who I am and what I have was certainly a gift given to me, so sharing that with others has an incredible value, at least in my eyes. I want to multiply my talents, instead of hiding them. I’m afraid I’ve done too much hiding them in the past, because I had hoped for different gifts. But I’ve come to value the gifts He’s given me much more. More every day. I’m not always as grateful as I should be, but I try to be, and I try to share. So the pearls, such as they are, pretty much end up flying off of me in all directions. It’s a constant barrage of pearls, some admittedly of greater price than others. But it’s me. I feel like I’m constantly shedding bits of myself wherever I go, and stopping to look around for swine is not normally part of the equation.

Maybe it’s a large component of my innocence that I pretty much fail to recognize the existence of swine in my world. I just assume that people are caring, are conscientious, are compassionate. That they give me the benefit of the doubt, that they want to know me, and knowing me, will of course care about me. I really can’t imagine the person that would have absolutely no value for me as a person, and would trample me under their feet, and turn and tear me to pieces.

But, realistically speaking, these people must be out there. Maybe they’re even people I know, but just don’t know well enough to know that I don’t know them. Or something. Right. So, I would like to firmly believe that giving of myself to people who don’t see the value does absolutely nothing to lessen that value. I am worth just as much with them in my life as without them. And in the immortal (if paraphrased) words of my buddy Tim, “If they don’t care about you, f*ck’em.” (Incidentally, Tim, to find this quote, I searched my e-mail and chats for the F word, and the vast majority of the entries are attributable to you. :-P)

But here’s an interesting question. What if I know someone has a lower value than I do for something I want to share? What if, knowing this, I decide to share it with them anyway, because I’d rather do that than completely shut myself off, and because I’m sure they must have some value for it, even if it’s not equal to my own? Does what I give become cheapened by my willingness to share it where it isn’t wanted, or isn’t valued as highly?

I guess giving advice is a good example. Advice is almost always of more value to the person giving it than the person getting it. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be given, necessarily. It’s just a tricky situation that has to be judged on its own individual merits. I guess that’s the only real answer to my questions above: it depends.

But, to mix biblical metaphors, do gifts cheapen when cast before swine? In some ways, I do think they might. Maybe. The pearls get muddy and broken. But the one talent was no less at the end of the tale than at the beginning. Except in that it was no more. And will the swine really turn around and attack me? I can’t really believe it. I probably never will, unless it happens. I pray to God it never does. But these thoughts keep coming to mind, and I continue to chew them over, if only to keep myself from getting complacent and stagnant and even more arrogant. :-P

Anyone else have any insight on this? I’d be happy to hear it.


Will said...

Well.. you asked for it. :)

For one, a swine that tramples pearls doesn't necessarily turn and attack. It happens -- I've seen it -- and when it does, you learn to never offer your pearls to that swine again. But the trampling is much more common, and *everybody* does it from time to time; even the best of us. In that regard, the only way to keep your pearls 100% safe is to lock them away, where no one gets any benefit -- not even you.

So what should we do?

With the exception of people I've already identified that turn and attack, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt and throw pearls at random... or not so random. I know and accept, before I do it, that they might get stepped on and broken; I try to not attach a feeling of "loss" to them even before I throw, if that makes any sense. My definition of "pearl" may be broader than yours, but in my case the value is in the throwing, mostly.

I say mostly, because it depends on the pearl, doesn't it? Sometimes we have a virtually endless supply of identical ones. We can throw a handful, and it may seem like we're running out, but eventually we find more. There are those rare pearls, though, that are large, or extremely valuable, and perhaps irreplaceable. I get the impression that these are the kind that you're worried about.

In that case, I don't have much advice. (Probably good, given what you said about advice.) ;-) Much like selling a house when the market is down, you've got to determine how much of a value loss you're willing to accept if you really need to throw that pearl. Then, try to find the person that will at least give you that much for it. You can't ever really know how much you'll get until it's too late, but there are ways of guessing.

Don't throw the big pearl first. Work your way up and note the reaction you get -- how much each one is appreciated. You might sacrifice some smaller ones, but at least then you'd know to stop. If you get to the big one in question and haven't really had any bad reactions from the previous ones... well... that's all you can do, isn't it?

The point of it all is to continue sharing your pearls, because they're beautiful and deserve to be viewed and enjoyed.

Rebekah said...

I've often thought of pearls as they relate to the energy required to produce them. When you're constantly shedding pearls and it's not a struggle to make them, no problem. But if you're focusing energy on making a special pearl for someone and they reject it, then you've lost not only the pearl but the energy spent making it, and you won't have the energy to make a similar pearl right away for someone who will appreciate it. You have a finite amount of resources; spend them wisely.

Katy said...

i think... that you should share your pearls for the most part, indiscriminately. You just get really, really good at smashing the pearls of the people who smash yours... those little stabbing deliveries that can't keep you from getting hurt, but can make the person hurting you feel absolutely shitty about themselves for doing it. That way you make them know how much that pearl was worth, and that now they can't have it.

like finding out that junk-mail letter you tossed really had a check for five million dollars in it.