To take

On a day when the sun shines, someone ahead of me at a metro station holds the door, and the day brightens further. 

Later, a five year old at the corner store extends her bag of sticky candies and offers them with a bonus, her incandescent smile. 

When I thank the neighbor who shovels our building's steps, he says "Bienvenue, madame!", the first word vernacular Québec French for "You're welcome". (No, he is not welcoming me to the city.) 

Tiny courtesies and favours stoke a quiet glow of goodwill. I fall asleep thinking, That was a good day.

The next day, I invite a friend to lunch and after we enjoy our sandwiches, as I pay the cheque, she says, "I'll leave the tip." My glow flickers. Why, I wonder, do women do this? 

Mostly, I guess, because of an urge to contribute. However, this offer takes the charm off the gesture of treating someone, and results in a middling transaction, where neither party has given nor received wholly.

I ask if she would kindly accept that small treat in the manner in which it is given: unreservedly. She rolls her eyes and sighs, Ohhhkay. (I imagine, in a thought bubble over her head: Duchesse is touchy about the weirdest things!)

Another friend divides people into givers and takers, and says givers are uncomfortable when accepting favours. Behaviours at which women leaders excel—nurturing, giving back—are classic giver-qualities. I wonder, can we also take (when it is appropriate), without the shadow of unworthiness or undertow of obligation?

The ability to take also supports the ability to ask for what we need. And if we ask, but then cannot accept? Now that is a bind. Although we can't choose those moments when someone gives, we can develop our comfort with receiving, with gratitude. That behaviour is especially challenging as we grow older. Protective of independence, some elders reflexively refuse any kind of help, and then, as the offers dwindle, realize they are bereft.

Sometimes a friend, a stranger, or the universe will offer us a little goody. Take it! Soon enough, it will be our turn to give, and one day we will need more help than we ever thought. Let's prepare by relaxing our fierce, false front of independence, at least in small, sweet moments.    




12 comments

Kristien62 said...

A most interesting post. I had to pause for a moment to think about the need for someone to "give" such as your friend and her offer of the tip. I always have the need to pick up the check or pay for the coffee and I wasn't sure why. Could it be that I am a giver? Doesn't really seem like me. Or is it a desire for me to be in control. That sounds more like me and the tendency to always be responsible is one I struggle with. Interesting.

une femme said...

I think so many of us have been raised to be "givers" and it can be tough mindset to overcome, and allow ourselves to receive. One small way that I've worked on this myself is how I accept compliments. I've learned to just smile and say "thank you," rather than feeling the need to add some qualifier, (e.g. "oh this is so old/scuffed/etc.") which I think also diminishes the one offering the compliment. It takes practice to "take."

materfamilias said...

Yes! A much-loved yoga teacher once asked us to think about our "capacity to receive" and this so resonated with me. My father was such a giver, all his life, in big and small ways, but almost as memorable was the way he allowed us to care for him throughout his last year or so when the cancer whittled him away. We sensed that he drew on his own knowledge of how good it felt to care for someone, and so, hard as it must have been to surrender so much (he needed help getting to the bathroom, needed turning for the bedsores, needed help with food, etc.,) he showed genuine appreciation for what we gave him -- Really, I guess he did keep giving until the end, and his gift was in receiving. As for myself, I'm not so good at this, somehow feeling I need to be the nurturer or simply that I need to be independent. But I'm working on it. A really good post, thank you!

Madame Là-bas said...

My mother doesn't like to be "beholden" to others but that seems to be more about arrogance and power than about generosity. I have tried to "lose" this attitude. Accepting a gift or a compliment is an act of grace as is giving. Thank you is all that is necessary.

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

Oh this is too true....I was treated to a simple cup of tea in a cafe by a friend and I found it difficult to graciously accept it! Why did I resist her gesture? She admonished me and said "just say thank you!"
Giving is so much easier than "getting" or receiving....I will try to work on it!

LPC said...

This is a very thoughtful and well-articulate piece on what my mother, of another generation, called, "A Simple Thank You Will Suffice."

Susan said...

I so heartily agree with your comments here, Duchesse. It is important to be a gracious receiver, especially if you understand and realize fully that you are often a giver yourself. A woman (or a man) cannot truly be gracious until they can accept what others want to give them and do it without apologies or offers to refuse the gift.

(And, LPC, A Simple Thank You will Suffice is your bumper sticker I sported on my car for over a year. Thank you. )

Nelson Bartley said...

Very interesting and very timely. Just spent a week with my 90/91 yr old parents. Mom had heart surgery. My brother and I were pulling our hair out because they refuse help from anyone except us. But neither one of us live in town. So mom says "we need a bit more help" but she refuses to arrange it OR let us arrange it.
Their desire for independence has become a burden on those who would love for them to keep their independence safely.
Materfamilias is quite fortunate to have a father who got both sides.

Dr. V.O. said...

What a thoughtful post - I admit to being that kind of "tip offerer" and I think it stems from anxiety about "assuming" that a whole gift of lunch or a meal is exactly that -- the whole thing, tip included. I agree with Une Femme and others too - we're programmed as women to be givers and not takers (of gifts or compliments). I'm reminded of Marcel Mauss's masterful book, The Gift, which shows how societies use gift giving to cement social relationships but also for other things, from demonstrating dominance to secure reciprocity (being beholden as one of your readers put it) in the future. I think women have added factors that influence how we participate in giving and receiving. BTW, you look stunning with your gray - your eyes shine and stand out even more.

Rita said...

Kristien62 makes a good point when she brings up the desire to be in control. Refusing a gift does diminish the giver. When I hear people responding to a gift with, "Oh, you didn't HAVE to do that", I cringe. Because it is like throwing cold water over the giver.

rubiatonta said...

Thank you for this lovely post -- I love days like those you describe. And I'm grateful for the reminder to receive as willingly as I give.

@Rita, when a friend receives a gift with "You didn't HAVE to", I usually reply "No, but I WANTED to." For me, wanting to share is the most beautiful impulse humans have.

Duchesse said...

Kristien62: For many women it is the desire to avoid conflict, even of the most minor sort, as in "I've got it","No, me, I insist." Not saying this is your case, but I do see it fairly often. I suppose that is a form of control.

Pseu: Oh, yes! Someone I worked with told me to quit doing that (diminishing) and I've always appreciated her counsel.

materfamilias: So touching. My hunch is that your father accepted your love, and loved you so much himself... a special man, I can tell.

Mme: Gifts do involve the principle of reciprocity, which some cast as "obligation". My mother was like that too; at times refusing even gifts she had broadly hinted she would like.

hostess: There are lots of women who do that, and that's what I'm pondering: why is it so hard to accept a small gift?

LPC: Yes, that is a comment of another generation and really, does a grownup need to be told what to say? My hunch is your mother delivered her reply with so much charm that the words were not that important.

Susan: Two complementary ways of being, as you point out.

Nelson Bartley: I've been there... there is nothing as desirable as care from a loved child, even though in your case that's not practical or sufficient.

Dr. VO: I have long written about the cultural import of gift giving, and that we were a gift society before a money society. It is the oldest form of exchange. I recommend Margaret Visser's book "The Gift of Thanks", fascinating and beautifully-written, as are all her books.

Now, no more of that tip business ;)

Rita: A very inept thing to say, yet it has become such a cliché that a person utters it without thinking. I usually say some version of Rubi's words, but the act has been diminished, slightly.

rubi: I brought a gift to a birthday party for a woman I had never met, and she said, "I can't tell you how wonderful it is to get a gift from a stranger." I loved her frank pleasure.