Monday, June 13, 2011

Is It Generosity, Or Something Less Attractive?

Generosity with an ulterior motive looks something like this:

When my older brother (I was 9 years younger) was around twenty, his primary interests were sports, food and girls in that order. For quite a long time, one particular young lady used to come to our house laden with casseroles and enough Tupperware to require her to make two trips to the car. In the TV room, she would stuff her Pasha (my brother) with volumes of tasty morsels while he reclined on his comfy sofa and watched his favorite team or action movie.

All the while he was dating lots of other girls. My parents, thinking this was not fair to the “food lady,” voiced their concerns. They were assured by my brother that he and she were just friends, and that she was well aware that he was seeing other young women. It was not long after that when the Pasha was awakened from his delusion.

One evening when he was home entertaining a real date, the food lady - heavily burdened under freshly cooked and baked dishes for her “we’re just friends” guy - arrived slightly winded but smiling at the front door. It was my misfortune to have responded to the doorbell. Then there was quite a bit of screeching and yelling before she finally slammed the door on her way out, her dignity in tatters.

This is an obvious case of giving more than is appropriate to get something in return. We all know that there are even more extreme cases when outrageously expensive gifts have been given to impress or buy love. If you are still in denial about the hurt this behavior actually brings, this post won’t help you.

But if you have experienced some ambivalence about your gift-giving in the past, this post is for you.  On some level, you already know that too generous a gift will make most people uncomfortable. I remember once at mother’s birthday party some years ago, my previously mentioned brother brought a new girlfriend, carrying a birthday gift, to introduce to my mom. Instead of a handful of flowers or a box of chocolates (which would have been thoughtful and appropriate), the gift was way too expensive and seriously embarrassed my mom (who recovered quickly enough to give a hug and a gracious thank you, while feeling awful about it just the same.)

If you think you are guilty of being overly-generous, it’s helpful to start by being clear about what true generosity is: it is giving to make someone else happy. Period. If you are honest with yourself and find another reason, such as wanting to be liked or to gain some advantage, you’re not being generous, and you are doing yourself a great disservice. You are essentially telling yourself that you’re not likeable enough just as you are, and the receiver instinctively knows this as well.

So, to avoid feeling like the perennial fool, who always tips too much and buys inappropriately expensive presents, inform yourself by asking family and friends, and even neighbors, what they give in certain circumstances. When your child needs a present for another child’s birthday, check with other mothers you trust.  And do what they do.

If you have friends with an income substantially above yours and you have the custom of exchanging gifts, never go beyond your budget, and it is their job to make sure their gift never exceeds the value of yours. True friends don’t engage in showing off. If they do, say something about how it makes you feel.

So, stick with the “norm” when it comes to gift-giving, and let people like you for who you are, not what you give them.

Good luck with your goal!

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