Giving is a good thing. These days, the world feels like it is getting more and more mean-spirited and selfish, so in such a hostile setting it is a soothing balm to find people who are thinking about others and giving generously.
Every day, people like you and me show thoughtfulness and consideration in the gifts we bestow our loved ones. Birthday gifts, anniversary flowers, Diwali presents. Home-made food for single friends missing their families back home. Fresh soup and khichdi for sick neighbours. The gifts don’t even have to be things. We make phone calls that let others know we are thinking of them. We take care of their young kids so that they can have an evening of fun with adults for a change. There is a lot of giving that happens across the world.
Lately, though, I have been wondering about giving to the giver. How well does a giver receive? We usually think about ourselves in the giving mode, but how often do we stop and think about how good we are at being on the receiving end?
Not so well, in my experience. Recently, I tried to give a gift to a friend who had given me many presents in the past, including spontaneous ones and others that had no occasion to them except that the friend felt like giving me something. I was a well-loved friend. When I showed up with a gift that I had put a lot of thought and care into, it was flatly rejected. “It’s not necessary” and “I don’t need anything” were the refrains that hit my ears even as my hands bearing the box were pushed back. Despite what soon became pleas, the friend refused to accept my gift. Crestfallen, I returned home, stillborn gift in tow.
This friend is not alone. I have had many other encounters where my offering has not been accepted. The reasons are the same – there is no need for it, I should use it instead, they don’t need anything. The manner of refusal is firm and stubborn, an unwillingness to accept.
Why is it so hard for some givers to receive? The very same joy that they feel in giving a present to someone and seeing their face light up is what is, after all, sought by their receiver. Research shows that the act of giving releases happiness hormones within us. It is, in fact, a superior experience to receiving a gift. And yet, when givers don’t accept gifts, this joy is denied to the very people that mean so much to them. It is strangely ironic.
I’m not sure how many of us are aware of this phenomenon. How do you react when someone tries to give you a present? Do you push it away or do you accept with grace? I have been guilty of not accepting gifts on occasion, out of a concern for inadvertently creating a sense of obligation in the other person or simply because I did not think it was needed.
These are terrible reasons to reject a gift. It is deflating to the giver. Worse, it sows the seeds of inequality and imbalance: you are capable of giving a worthy gift, but mine does not meet the standard? To be cast into permanent roles of donor and recipient is unhealthy for a relationship that is meant to be of equals.
There is so much written about giving and generosity. We know very well how to give. It seems to me, though, that we may not know how to receive.
Receiving begins with an openness to being given gifts. While it may be easy to joke this off, saying who doesn’t like getting free, expensive stuff, it is quite possible that we don’t see ourselves in this guise. We have cast ourselves in the role of giver without thinking about donning the role of receiver. Is it arrogance? Is it self-protectiveness? Receiving requires humility and vulnerability, an acceptance that we are worthy of being thought about and receiving the thoughtfulness of others. We are not only born to give to others; we are also entitled to be a recipient on occasion.
What’s more, in the very act of receiving, we achieve what no gift given can achieve – we enable our loved ones to experience the joy of giving, which is the ultimate gift.
So, next time someone tries to give you something – whether an actual physical present or an offer to listen and be a supportive friend or whatever – be mindful and let them. In that act of receiving is a magic that lets the giver feel gifted too.