A striking advertisement aired for a while on South African television. Two boys, playing in their local neighbourhood, came across a shiny new car parked outside a neighbour’s house. They learn that the man’s brother had bought him the car, as a gift. One boy exclaims: “Oh, wow! I wish I had a brother like that!” To which the other replies, with an enigmatic look of destiny in his eyes:
“I want to be a brother like that.”
How quickly our measurement of wealth can shift, be it material or spiritual. We see a whole new level of what it means to be wealthy. Not to just to have wealth, but to embody the source which can give wealth to others. The ability to give, abundantly—of ourselves, our resources, our time.
The ad struck me and has stayed with me ever since. There is a steady personal power—joy and freedom—that comes from giving. But in my shortish life, I’ve been amazed by how many people struggle with receiving (gifts, compliments, love) in the same vein.
How powerless we would all be if no one was to accept our gifts.
Perhaps people fear the expectation of reciprocation. I get this. Gift-giving and reciprocation is so prevalent in human society that it could be its own topic of anthropological study.
But it shouldn’t be about stuff—it should be about relationships.
What if we all woke up and realized that the true exchange occurs in the very act of giving—for both parties? What if we understood that rejecting compliments or gifts puts a cork in the development of our relationships? How would we do things differently?
Instinctively, the answer seems obvious. But when we take a closer look, we see generations of people who don’t know how to deal with compliments. Or who consistently turn down gifts. Of course, this is usually intended as a display of humility. But it runs the risk of unintentionally reducing our chances for greater closeness. Because, really, that’s what gift-giving is all about.
I’ll give you the example of a self-contained and eccentric woman I know. Her fierce pride made her humble charisma all the more intoxicating—she was lovely, and terrifying. I once saved much of the money I had earned for the month to buy her a gift. She refused it on the grounds that it was too expensive. No matter how much I argued, she wouldn’t acquiesce.
I could tell she was only thinking of me, wanting to make sure I didn’t “waste” my money on her. But the rejection smarted. I couldn’t take the gift back, anyway, and an awkward rift began to emerge between us.
It was the beginning of a powerful lesson in my life—the gift of receiving graciously.
Several months later, she spoke to me of a friend who had offered to buy her an overseas plane ticket. She said she couldn’t accept such an expense made on her behalf, but I could see how much she wanted to visit this friend.
I knew she wouldn’t accept the advice if she thought it came from me, so I told her my father had taught me something powerful. I looked her in the eye and said:
“It feels really good and empowering to give to those you love. You clearly want to see her, and she wouldn’t have offered if she didn’t want to see you. It would be such a blessing to her if you would accept the offer and allow her the joy of giving. You know better than anyone, it’s about experience, not money. We don’t live all that long, anyway.”
The idea that receiving could be a way to bless others seemed to hit her in the face. She hadn’t thought of it that way. But everyone knows how good it feels to give. Why is it not obvious that allowing others to feel that way should be a blessing?
I remember how I felt, numerous times, as I walked away after buying a week’s worth of food for homeless people. I was bouncing off the pavement like a gamboling lamb! The interchange is in the act, itself.
For the record, my friend went on that trip, and she and her friend had a wonderful time. The experience enriched their relationship and helped them grow closer.
While we’re at it, let’s talk about compliments.
In my relatively short time on the planet, I have noticed something mesmerizing—people love compliments. But about half the time, they have no idea what to do with them.
Is it because we don’t believe these words are true? Perhaps. Maybe there’s a fear that we’re being manipulated, that the comments are hollow, or that we run the risk of them going to our heads.
Of course, there may well be a great deal to overcome in this unfortunate psychology. But to skip to the chase, it’s a lot easier to decide to own the compliments which come our way and accept them graciously in a way which empowers and inspires the giver in return.
If you struggle with this kind of thing, here’s an example that might help:
“Yvonne! I cannot tell you how beautiful you look in that outfit today! You’ve got such a great eye for style!”
To which Yvonne could reply:
“Oh—thank you, Cat! You really know how to make people feel good about themselves! You’re great at seeing the good in people. I love that about you.”
Boom. Simple, right?
Everyone walks away feeling encouraged and appreciated. Of course, it helps to speak honestly and mean what you say. I don’t encourage empty flattery. We don’t want to manipulate others so they will like us. We want to build positive relationships where we lift one another up.
The gift, really, is in having the presence of mind to notice the good in others. To choose to think well about people and look for things to admire. Whether it be something as superficial as the outfit they’re wearing, or an underlying soft-skill they have which may go unnoticed or taken for granted.
We don’t need to get sappy about it.
The art lies in recognizing that each interchange is a mutual chance for empowerment, whether you’re on the giving or the receiving end. It’s a win-win situation.
How have we gotten so caught up in being humble or proud that we cannot bless others by receiving their gifts?
If we want to be a giver, learn to receive. If we want to be a receiver, learn to give. It’s not rocket science.
I hope, from now on, you will find yourself receiving compliments and empowering others, in daily interaction, rather than shutting them down. And that you will remember this lesson, always, as I have.
I encourage you to watch the video below as well. It’s an entertaining poke at ourselves—and the rest of humanity.
Author: Catherine Simmons
Image: Kristina Alexanderson/Flickr
Editor: Nicole Cameron