I had an epiphany today, and it’s one I hope I can hold onto because I think it’s important, especially this season. Though I know I won’t because I’m a true child of the consumerist, spoiled-brat culture, and it’s damn hard to let go of that.
But anyway, my epiphany was this: You give what you give and you get what you get.
Not “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Not “you get what you give.” Both of these old adages are rooted in comparison, quantification, measuring up. What about just doing things to do them? And what about receiving favors and really receiving them, and feeling gratitude.
What if instead of do unto others as you would have others do unto you, we just did “do unto others.” full stop. And “others do unto you.” full stop. Separate things that exist without the burden of comparing them and making sure it was an even exchange.
This morning, I had to ask a friend to sit for Ebba, as my mother in law (the usual sitter of choice! :) ) was ill. After my friend drove through the rain to my house, entertained the munchkin for over two hours, AND took ME out to lunch, I said, “I’ll definitely have to return the favor soon!”
To which he scoffed and said, “If it had been a favor, okay, but this wasn’t a favor.”
Oh...right. Wait, what? I had to ponder this a moment.
It wasn’t a favor. It wasn’t something he did to get something back. He just...did it. Because it was helpful and because it was fun. And gee, I think we’ve lost sight of it, but isn’t that what friends are meant to do? Our lives have become a series of exchanged favours. I’ll take you out for drinks because you took me out last week. You walked my dog, so I’ll bring you a bottle of wine. I owe you a coffee because you got the tip last time we were out. Hell, even Santa requires you to be on the "nice" list before he'll bring you a gift.
It’s one thing to show gratitude, and I’m not advocating for doing away with all of the give and take (like, I’m sure your dog walking friend appreciated that bottle of wine! :) ) But, here’s the thing, the constant trade of items and favors takes some of the savor out of the whole process. For example, before my friend said to me “It wasn’t a favor,” I felt a little beholden. Grateful, yes, but also a little like “how can I make this up.” I wasn’t fully immersed in gratitude for the kindness, as I should have been. Half my mind was thinking of what I should do, could do, have to do next. Would a bottle of wine be equal enough? Would paying him be too much? Would watching his kid in exchange be too little?
Instead, his words stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t a favor. It was kindness. And I was grateful for that and told him so. And I’m sure in the future I will show him a kindness...and it won’t be because I felt I had to. It will be because I felt like it, because I like my friend, and because it’s nice to do nice things.
In this season of gift exchanging and consumerist frenzy, I think we should all take a step back and look at when we’re actually being kind for being kind’s sake. Are you doing something in exchange for something else, or because you want a favor in the future? (Okay, I really hope I’m not the only person who does this, or I’ll be a little embarrassed. hehe.) Or are you doing something because it feels good to make others feel good. Because that motivation has a richness in itself, no exchange needed.
I’m going to really work on doing things for others without expecting something back or tallying up what I get in return. And I’m also going to try and be more sincerely grateful to those who do nice things for me.
So, thanks, friend. Not only did you help me out this morning when I was in a bind and then take me out for lunch, you also inadvertently taught me a major life lesson. Feel free to remind me of it regularly. :)