The book The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, is about a relationship between a tree and a young boy. The tree has a love for the boy that knows no end and gives the boy whatever he wants; apples to eat, shade to sit under and a swing to play on. Ultimately, out of his endless love for him, the tree allows the boy to chop down the tree entirely so he can use the wood to build a boat and sail away, leaving the tree just a stump. Years later the boy returns as an old man, and the tree says to him ‘I have nothing left to give’. The old man replies that a quiet place to sit was all he needed.
It’s a story of the undying love the tree has for the man the entirety of his life. Over the years there have been many interpretations of whether the boy was too selfish, the tree too giving and whether either of those led to an ending that should have been happier.
There are an abundance of lessons and controversies within The Giving Tree, just as there seemingly is within most acts of goodwill and service in everyday life. The Dali Lama is criticized for being politically driven, leaders of non-profits are seen as too needy, companies incorporating Green practices are seen as doing it only for marketing purposes, and those that choose to quit their life here in the US to go work for children in Africa are criticized for not staying in the US and taking care of our children here. It’s almost as we’ve become so cynical, that every good deed must have an ill-intended motivation behind it. Why do we seek out every possible negative result born of every good intention? I.e., if the tree hadn’t given so much the boy wouldn’t have become so selfish.
We must do what we can, with what we have, to do the best we can for the people around us. Maybe that’s for our children, maybe it’s for our community or maybe it’s for the world. There is a grace and gratitude one must maintain when receiving, let us also hold the same in our hearts towards the giver. Though certainly not perfect it’s because of them we have a cool shade to sit under, apples to eat and swings to play on- and for that the world is a much, much better place.