“Oh, thank you…but I didn’t get you anything!” How often has that awkward response ruined a nice giving moment? Sometimes it’s hard to accept a gift without feeling the need to give one back. For a long time I struggled with this. Sometimes I didn’t give gifts that I wanted to, because I was afraid of imposing an obligation with my gift! How silly. It took time to realize not everyone thought the same way – some people can accept a gift graciously. I learned that when someone has the desire to say Thank You, Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, or Happy Arbor Day with a gift, my gratitude is usually all that’s needed to make the kind gesture complete.
The best gifts, in fact, might not even arrive in a package. Last year I wanted to give my Toastmasters group a gift, a final thank-you speech, to express in 10 minutes how the program, and its members, changed my life. The response to my going-away speech was overwhelming – appreciative tears all around. I gave a gift; and immediately, unexpectedly, got 30 gifts back. In my past, I would have said, “Thanks, but I wasn’t THAT good,” or found a way to deflect the praise to a mentor, colleague, or family member. Not very gracious. Perhaps because I am 15 years older than when I joined, or because of the work I have done on my own emotional intelligence, or perhaps because I’ve been hanging out with the right people, I soaked it up with as much grace, courage, and humility as I could muster. Because I allowed that to happen, the exchange felt complete. I left the meeting on an emotional high, and I hope everyone else did, as well.
This season, if you find yourself moved to be the generous gift-giver, are you doing so without expectations (as my Tennessee grandmother used to say, “out of the goodness of your heart”?) Conversely, if you find yourself overwhelmed with someone else’s generosity – intangible, tangible, or financial – how will you handle it? Will you graciously accept, honor the giver’s gesture, and allow the exchange to be complete? With so many messages about self-determination, independence, and not “needing” others in our lives to get by, it can be easy to forget how exchanges of gifts, if handled well on both sides, weave the fabric of our support networks tighter, and make it more beautiful. When not handled so well, we begin to take that fabric apart.
I invite you to think about what your giving and receiving this season will do for you and for those around you. Whether there is money involved or not, you have the potential to enter 2017 feeling a whole lot richer because of it.