It’s that time of the year when people seek to give to those in need. It’s a great time of year. People smile more. Politeness is more common place. “Pay it forward” becomes part of everyone’s vocabulary. What could possibly be wrong about people giving and showing they care for each other? Well, there really shouldn’t be, but today as I rode the train in to work, with my headphones in, I chose not to play my music loud enough to drown out the train noise. As a result, I overheard the conversation of the women behind me and it made me angry.
Here were two women, who had apparently been doing very well. They discussed their children and their husbands. How excited they were over vacations they had taken in the last year and trips they had planned for the rest of the year. Eventually, the subject moved to company donations and how each had helped others this past year. Nothing unusual and for the most part, I ignored the majority of what was being said. Not important for me to remember, however one of the women said something that inevitably locked the conversation in my head.
“She’s not grateful enough for what I’ve given her. She’s never once shown a strong emotion. She just says thank you and turns away. I don’t feel appreciated, so I can’t help her anymore.”
The woman directly behind me (Woman 1) said this to the woman across from her (Woman 2) in regards to a coworker who struggling to recover from a divorce. Woman 2 responded, “She appreciates it. She’s just numb. It’s hard for her. I would still help her.”
Woman 1 made a disgusted sound and responded, “If she would just cry or something when I help her, then I’d know she really appreciates me. But she never does. Just a dry ‘thanks.’ I want real appreciation.”
Woman 2 continued to say she would help. She didn’t feel that the coworker they were helping was ungrateful, just numb.
The train came to my stop, and I got off after trying to see Woman 1 and giving a smile to Woman 2.
The feelings of Woman 1 angered me because they were selfish. They were the comments of a person who gives only to feel important or part of the group, and not because they want to help. It’s just the think to do. She invests whatever help she gives in her own desire to be recognized for giving. Similar to the many who spout how much they give to charity every year just so they can get an “atta boy” and maybe a shiny plaque. Absolutely no compassion for the people they may be helping. Instead they stand in judgement over those whom they feel they lord over. “I have given you something. Please respond in a way that I feel strokes my ego, sufficiently.”
Sadly, I think this type of mentality is growing. My uncle told me that when you give to someone, do not expect anything in return. If you can not give freely, then do not give. This includes gratitude. I have given to people who I know needed the help, but were just not in a place to show dramatic gratitude. Some are just not capable of pulling out the waterworks and groveling to make donors feel better.
Immediately after my divorce, I was numb. So many people helped me and all I could do was say “Thank you.” I could not give in to the emotions, yet. I didn’t have the luxury to wallow in misery. I am thankful the people who offered to help me were patient and compassionate. If they had judged my unemotional state as a lack of appreciation, I would have fallen even further into the hole I had been thrown in. Even now, I try to keep my emotions in check. I still don’t have the luxury of falling into a quivering mass. I am so very thankful for everyone that is able and willing to help me. I know how far I’ve come with the help of friends and strangers and where I would be if there was no one to help at those “sudden death” moments. I have often only said “Thank you,” and tried to move on. It’s can be uncomfortable accepting help and knowing you don’t really have the option to say “No thank you.” Truly needing help is humbling. Accepting it is even more so.
Giving is a wonderful thing. There is no doubt it is More satisfying than being on the receiving end. However, if someone gives solely for the purpose of recognition, they simply should not give. Judging the people one gives to as not grateful “enough” is wrong. Compassion should rule. If you give to someone and you know it makes their life better, then accept the gratitude they can offer. Maybe they will show more a little later when the shock wears off, or maybe they’ll pay it forward. But if giving to someone comes with strings that the recipient must wail and beat themselves to show the proper gratitude some feel they are entitled to, that person should not give. Giving is not about self promotion. It’s about helping. If someone misuses a gift, sure, then a decision can be made whether to give again. However, Woman 1 on the train judged herself unappreciated by the recipient of her gift. Woman 1 should not give if she is looking for adulation. Woman 2 seemed to be more compassionate.
This was long. All I wanted to say was, whether you chose to give or not to give this season, make sure you are giving with the right reason in your heart. Do you wish to actually help a person or family, or do you want your name lights? If it is the first, then just be accepting and compassionate. If it’s the second, choose your “charity” differently. Being in need is humbling enough without having to prostrate one’s self. It’s supposed to be a hand up, and not a kneel down.