In the spirit of the coming holidays, I've been thinking about this behavior of giving and receiving. I could start with my own household and myself, with something shamefully trivial.
Another ancient relic is soon to be gone -- our 15-year-old RCA television, which has a bulky outer shell like the first generation of desk-top PC's. Last evening, Mom and I were watching some of my favorite recorded reruns, and, poof, the picture was gone. Coincidentally, some family members were about to drop by to hash out the details of Thanksgiving dinner.
Long story short, "that side of the family" has decided to give us a new television for single, early holiday gift. I was grateful, especially since it's also a practical solution to their yearly gift-giving quandaries.
My mom, not so much. Since that conversation, she has gone into another spin of anxiety and guilt. She repeatedly states that she "couldn't possibly accept" our relatives' gesture, up soon by questions to me as to how she can "help pay for this." Nothing that anyone could say yesterday could dissuade her, so we let the matter drop for now.
We've all heard that exasperated rhetorical query, "Didn't your mother teach you to share??"
As we approach the holiday season, we will see and hear much about "reaching out to those in need." That's a sentiment that needs repeating, no matter what the economic climate, or news of any recent natural disaster. Lack is one great cross-cultural equalizer, but so patience and generosity.
The truth is, there's more to just distributing goods or services. What do you do when an individual or group is too proud (yes, this happens more than one would think) to receive what is offered? Or when do our cultural prejudices get in the way of one human helping another? Or bureaucratic red-tape, or greed?
I was raised in a family in which asking for help of any kind could either result in kind assistance -- or, in the next moment, being shamed for being "weak," "stupid," "helpless," or "taking handouts." My memories are too many to go into now, but, suffice it to say, they have forever influenced my own thoughts on sharing.
If it impacted me, than surely it did Mom, too.
We all bring our colored lenses to the issue of generosity. Consider the surviving Depression-era demographic, who survived worse than our current recession, and vowed to scrimp, even after they were well-off again. Occasionally, we hear of families in our own neighborhoods who are now on food stamps. Do we ever just breathe scared sighs, and pray that we're not next? Sometimes, we often just don't know of the situations because personal pride is all these folks think they have left, and so they suffer in plain sight. I recall how awful I felt when I saw a "Foreclosure" sign in front of a house in the midst of our "nice neighborhood."
Being generous, then, means more than just being free with material resources. It means being aware, courageous, and open-hearted. It also calls for tact and sensitivity, because usually a person does better when a vote of confidence in his or her ability to move forward. That's called empowerment, a gift to everyone involved. Does anyone remember the Bette Davis movie, The Corn is Green? All her star student wanted was "a push over the wall." Sounds good to me...
Whether it's getting my Mom to happily accept the new television, or taking others' life-or-death needs to heart at any time of the year, sharing is something that we--and I--always need to keep in mind. Maybe it's time I got my own vision checked...