Interview: Jornal “Cultura news” – May/07/2005

Neither selfishness, nor generosity

Caption: Flávio Gikovate: “A relationship based on antagonism cannot be considered of good quality.”

Opposites are attracted to each other. That is true. Approximately 95% of all couples are formed by opposites, a selfish person and a generous one, which apparently is a well combined match. To doctor and psychotherapist Flávio Gikovate, however, a relationship based on such antagonism cannot be considered a good quality one. This duality, accepted and legitimized by society, deteriorates intimate companionship and produces consequences in other spheres, manifesting itself in the behavior of offspring and in social and political attitudes.

Based on his forty years of clinical experience and the study of marital relationships, Gikovate has already written several books broaching the conflicts that interfere in love and happiness. Among them, Essays on Love and Loneliness, A new Vision of Love, and The Sexual Liberation. In the current month of June, celebrating 30 years of his first publication, he is publishing a new title: Good, Evil and Beyond. The main idea is the result of lengthy consideration: selfishness and generosity as they oppose themselves in the great majority of amorous connections.

“Over the years it became clearer to me that humanity divides itself into these two groups: the selfish type, who receives more than he gives, and the generous type, who gives more than he receives. Yet that kind of generosity is no virtue, but a flaw as big as selfishness”, he remarks. “The selfish type does not tolerate frustrations or set backs, he is more unrestrained and aggressive and is constantly trying to gain advantage over others because hardships are not part of his psychic buildup. The generous person, on the other hand, is unable to say ‘no’ to demands because he is unable to deal with guilt, and feels empowered and superior for being able to give more than he receives.”

The generous person, as the doctor emphasizes, is limited by an unjustified guilt, since appropriate guilt should only be felt when the individual genuinely causes harm to another. “If you want my candy and I do not want to give it to you, I am entitled to keep it, and if you feel awful, that is just your bad luck”, he illustrates. “But if you make a long face I will give it to you. With that attitude, you learn how to blackmail me emotionally, using my guilt to take advantage of my weakness. I will feel abused and angered, but superior.”

According to the psychiatrist, the true virtue is altruism – dedication to a cause, anonymous donations. Generosity in an intimate relationship, however, has negative consequences, since its byproduct is selfishness. Wherever there is a generous person, there will be a selfish one. What explains this attraction? According to Gikovate, envy: the selfish type is envious of the generous person because he believes that the other has more to offer, is richer; and the generous type envies the selfish one because he says ‘no’ easily and does much more for himself. “The generous person is much more competent when giving gifts to others than to himself”, he analyses. “He goes to the mall, buys two things and that is enough to trigger guilt feelings. The selfish person knows no limits, he is not restrained by guilt. And since he avoids situations of pain and frustration, he also never places himself in the other person´s shoes and is unable to imagine the suffering that he might cause. He only pursues his immediate self interest. He is capable of incredible things, which the generous person cannot do. So a kind of mutual envy is established, based on the admiration for the other person´s capacity. On one side, there is a mood of enchantment which eases the get together; on the other, an environment of dissatisfaction is established. Then the power game is triggered: the generous person, feeling valued, appreciated and proud of his superiority, while the selfish one tries to dominate through shouting and emotional blackmail.”

The most serious thing in this “diabolical plot”, as the author calls it, is that one person reinforces the opposite way of being. “I cannot change because I will stop being admired and loved. That is the idea”, he defines. “The generous person compromises more and more, believing that he will satisfy the other, while the selfish type demands more and more, never being satisfied. Both become more and more antagonistic, inert and frustrated. The differences escalate over the years, creating the grounds for separation.”

The consequences go beyond: “Their children are placed before two models – one that is impertinent, demanding, unrestrained, as opposed to a good-natured, tolerant, compromising one. Both models are validated by each other. The child will copy one of both. The second son, due to the rivalry between siblings, will probably follow in the opposite direction. Thus both patterns have been replicated from one generation to another and propagate themselves from domestic to public life. The more aggressive and warrior type always winds up commanding power, while the generous type functions with a kind of parallel power. The latter creates the good ideas, which the selfish type snatches and executes. Both are models of unjust persons. How can a society formed by such people be fair?”

To become part of the fair category, of which Gikovate paints a “composite picture” in his book, “without any photos, for there are very few fair people in the world”, the starting point would be to stop appraising generosity as a virtue and to begin viewing it as a weakness that arises from excessive guilt and which creates relentless conditions for the existence of selfishness. “Both are immature”, he emphasizes. “The selfish person does not develop himself emotionally, because he deals poorly with frustration, vexation and pain; and the generous type, because he is imprisoned in guilt and does not say “no” when he should.”

The fair type, according to the author, is above both models: “He does not want to boast and distinguish himself for being superior by giving more than he receives, nor does he wish to receive more than he gives. He wants a balanced exchange. He does not envy his opposite, is content with his own way of being and appreciates similar people, establishing high quality love relationships. The generous type learns how to say ‘no” to improper requests and ceases to be subject to blackmail, thus conquering self-esteem and personal freedom. Meanwhile the selfish type, in the absence of the generous person, is also able to progress and mature.”

According to Gikovate, with an equitable balance between giving and taking, all will benefit, including society. The road is long and begins by understanding the concept. It is necessary to become conscious of it and, from that point on, to strive toward emotional self-sufficiency, become more competent and independent, and develop a certain amount of control over vanity. Overcoming intolerance and the incapacity to deal with guilt, leads to emotional maturity, to respect the differences and the rights of others, without any heroic idea of personal sacrifice in favor of nothing or nobody. “Stopping at the point of fairness is the only way of seeking a more balanced personal, love, family and social life,” he emphasizes.

Finally, he says that his new book is addressed to unbiased persons who are willing to think outside traditional routes, lines, limits, paradigms. “The purpose is to pave the way to personal evolution. And that is possible at any age, in any time.”