I’m seeing a lot of social media posts complaining that, “Nobody wants to help anyone these days.” And a companion complaint: “Nobody appreciates kindness these days.”
Someone posted on a Facebook forum: “My neighbor dropped her child off to play with my son. She said she wasn’t feeling well. So when she came to pick up her child, I gave her a care package with tea, lemons, and honey. She seemed surprised and not pleased.”
I was trying to imagine how I’d feel if I’d told someone I wasn’t feeling well and they showed up with tea, lemons, and honey. I’m not particularly fond of tea. I drink herbal tea sometimes in the late evening before going to sleep. I’m not fond of lemons or honey. The giver doesn’t know if I have a medical condition that precludes caffeine in the tea or honey in any form. I don’t…but I could.
And “not feeling well” can mean a lot of things. Some conditions would be aggravated by tea, lemons and honey.
So I wrote in the comments, “You were being presumptuous. You’re giving her something she doesn’t want.” I might have added, “You could ask if the other mom needs anything. Maybe you could drive her child home, so she wouldn’t have to go out.”
I got a snarky reply back: “It’s important to recognize kindness.”
But was this gesture a kindness? Or a projection of the giver’s needs onto the recipient?
When you know someone well, you can surprise them with something you know they like.
A surprise gift of something they won’t like? You’re signaling, “I’m not seeing you as a person.”
Someone once sent me a bag of caramels as a thank you. I don’t eat caramels, but my dog walker accepted them gratefully.
A business associate sent me a beautiful plant for a holiday gift. I was supposed to keep it out of direct sunlight and add water and love. I can’t keep plants because my cats would eat them. Besides, I knew I’d kill a plant that deserved a good home. I gave it to a plant-loving neighbor – being honest about the re-gift – and she loved it.
“I hope they send one every year,” she said…and now I’ve taken care of her holiday gift in a good way.
A real estate agent periodically sends me small gifts (like a $10 discount at a new coffee shop). She invited her clients to a holiday party where they’d get pies. I don’t need more social events or tiny discounts at places I’d never visit. I make all my referrals to the agent who sent me a $50 gift card after she sold a house to one of my referrals.
The worst gifts are those with an agenda. They’re fun to send but they’ll kill the relationship.
I must admit, in my book on aging, I encourage everyone to forget about giving their parents a warm comforter or socks. “Give them 3 sessions with the toughest personal trainer you can find,” I say. “They may dis-invite you to Thanksgiving dinner but they’ll be grateful later.” I’m only half-kidding.
And I further admit I once sent a copy of one of my favorite health books – Less Medicine, More Health – to friends who disagreed with me on the topic of “preventive” medicine. I highly recommend this book and wish everyone would read it. But my friends were less than thrilled and subsequently ghosted me…which is probably for the best, as our values differ widely.
Back when I was taking pottery class, I used to give gifts of misshapen ceramic objects to various friends and acquaintances. Some were genuinely pleased. I suspect most of my objects got buried in someone’s yard (although a few people still keep them on display in their living rooms or kitchens, so I suspect they actually enjoy them).
At least ceramic objects are easy to hide. Someone once gave me a large photo of a beach with swimmers, figuring I’d hang it on the wall. The giver was well-intentioned but it didn’t fit my tastes or my decor. I was wondering what to do with it until my dog walker said, “I love that picture! I am a beach person!” And there it went.
Some gifts are outright manipulative.
Then there are the poison gifts, as described in the classic work, The Gift by Marcel Mauss. A poisoned gift tries to maneuver the recipient into doing something: reciprocating, being a friend, or doing a favor.
“I’ll give him this. Now he’ll feel obligated to take my calls.”
“She’ll feel obliged to buy me something in return.”
I’m reminded of lunch invitations from people who want to sell me something. In particular, some website companies invite people to lunch and then do a hard sell. Inevitably the buyers regret their purchase.
Back to the neighbor who handed over the tea, lemons, and honey. She hadn’t stopped to think, “Does my neighbor want this?” She defined the gesture as kind. Her neighbor might have been thinking, “I can’t use this stuff. Now what the **** do I do with it?”
No thanks. I won’t notice if I don’t get a gift, especially if we’ve never exchanged gifts or if I know you only through business.
But believe me, I’ll notice if you give me something I have to find a new home for. Now you’ve made me work