We know how important it is to be a giver, but what about the importance of being a good receiver?

Recently, my daughter went on a school skiing trip, and spent the day with her friend and her friend’s dad. I had promised to give her a bit of cash to buy a treat, and of course in the morning bustle I completely forgot. When the time came and she was empty-handed her friend’s dad kindly bought her a Kit Kat. She had the social graces to promise to pay him back, and of course he responded that it was his treat.

When she came home and told me, I was immediately embarrassed, and decided I should round up a toonie right away, maybe write a note to go with it…and then I stopped. It was a Kit Kat. How fortunate that Olivia had someone to get a treat for her, and how kind of that gentleman to do it. If he said it was his treat, why not let him treat her? (It’s not like he had to pay for her lift ticket.)

With the “supermom” complexes out there, sometimes I think we all insist on being the givers, and try to pay people back right away when they’ve done something for us. The problem with always keeping the scorebooks even is that no one ever gets to experience the glow of giving. Someone had your child for a playdate? Invite their child back as soon as possible! A coworker covered for you when you had an appointment? Insist that she leave early the very next day!

Some moms (I personally find this is rare with dads) also enjoy polishing that martyr halo. Why would you host a potluck if you can claim the bragging rights for slaving over a hot stove all day long? Why let your parents watch the baby so you can have a date night, when you want to be able to tell everyone that you’ve never ever left the baby with anyone else? (That comment never impresses me, by the way, but certainly does arouse pity.)

I think we also receive better from some givers than others. I’m almost 40 years old (and extremely independent, by the way), yet still very willing to let my parents do things for me. Mom makes us batches of frozen dinners and proofreads my articles, Dad runs errands and does handyman jobs we don’t have time for. I’m much less likely to want favours from my boss however, because I feel it’s more important to look competent to her than to my parents. (They’re stuck with me!)

It can also be much easier to receive when something is given anonymously. Someone at work (I’m pretty sure I know who, but I won’t reveal her identity) has been leaving little typewritten notes and edible treats for staff members. When it was my turn, it gave me a little glow (and a small sugar rush) and I didn’t have to worry about who to thank or pay back. I like to give anonymously for that same reason.

Liv has been taking sewing lessons (free of charge) from my generous aunt, along with another girl her age. We wanted to get my aunt a gift at the end of the last session, and as the girl’s mother and I were deciding on a gift card amount, she wisely noted, “If we give too much, her charitable spirit may feel too well compensated.” I thought that was such an interesting point. If she is “paid in full”, she may easily lose some of the good feeling that she gets from giving her time to help these two little girls pursue a hobby. That said, of course we wanted to thank her for her efforts, but it’s not always tit-for-tat. (The girls actually prepared a beautiful song to sing for her on the last night, which also provided a nice personal touch.)

On PsychCentral, John Amodeo argues that there are 5 reasons that receiving is harder than giving:

1. It’s a defense against intimacy
2. You let go of control (there’s much more control in giving than receiving)
3. There’s a fear of strings attached
4. We believe it’s selfish to receive
5. There’s a self-imposed pressure to reciprocate

You can read the article for further explanations, but I think a few of these hold true for me, as does his point, “Giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin of intimacy.” If you’re always the receiver in a relationship, maybe you need to smarten up. But if you’re always the giver, don’t think of that as a point of pride. Have you ever been called “hard to buy for”? I’m betting a lot of poor receivers fit that bill (though there are many reasons that choosing a gift for someone can be challenging).

Receiving a compliment can even be difficult: do you immediately deny, deflect or turn to reciprocation? Sometimes it’s only good manners to reciprocate: “You did well on your presentation!”, “Thanks, so did you!”, but there are many more individual compliments that can be taken at face value and accepted. “I love those shoes!” “Thanks!”

I want to make sure that I’m clear: I don’t for a minute think you shouldn’t thank someone, pay back loans, or make good on any promised reciprocation, but I think it’s important to remember that putting good out into the world doesn’t always mean that you’re going to get it back from the same person you gave it to. Next time I’m with someone else’s child, and they’ve forgotten money for a treat, I will be sure to buy them a Kit Kat, and continue to pay it forward.

To end with a quote:

“Receiving is often harder than giving. Giving is very important: giving insight, giving hope, giving courage, giving advice, giving support, giving money, and most of all giving ourselves. Without giving there is no brotherhood or sisterhood.

But receiving is just as important, because by receiving we reveal to givers that they have gifts to offer. When we say, ‘Thank you, you gave me hope; thank you, you gave me a reason to live; thank you, you allow me to realize my dream,’ we make givers aware of their unique and precious gifts. Sometimes it is only in the eyes of the receivers that givers discover their gifts.”

Henri J.M. Nouwen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *