Saturday, October 4, 2014
One should give gifts, compliments and hospitality generously. This, I suspect, is the beginning of moving beyond yourself. One may also receive gifts, compliments and hospitality graciously. This is an exercise in humility and is one I've had opportunity to practice repeatedly. This is a less-taught, but widely reinforced social notion. It's also an act of moving beyond the self, in that your self-sufficiency is sidelined in order to allow another to give of themselves. I suspect the lesser-known cousin of these interconnected virtues is gracious giving.
Giving, especially that which is extravagant or cannot be reciprocated, serves not only to humble the receiver, but to highlight social difference. In itself, this has the potential to form strong bonds between people. Take the example of child and parent - no child can ever begin to repay their parent for the sacrifice and generosity they have received. In fact, to suggest they can would be tantamount to a break in relationship. I am indebted to David Graeber for this idea (Debt: The First 5000 Years). And the examples abound of inequality rightly being a foundational prerequisite to kinship. However, when the relationships are not akin to standard kinship lines, such as in direct peers, the exchange is different.
If the unequal, extravagant giving/receiving is not accompanied by an equally deep relationship that is embraced by both parties, the effect is to highlight social or economic difference. It may even be an insensitive show of power that humiliates the receiver, and may even lead to a break in relations.
The girl refuses to receive a gift from a suitor, because she believes some strings may be attached. The friend blanches at the generous offer, but receives it and feels eternally uncomfortable and indebted. The recipient of charity hangs head, accepts what they know they cannot provide for their family, and tries to look thankful. Saving face is impossible.
To sum, it is as incumbent on the giver to be gracious (or even restrained) as it is for the recipient to show gratitude. That this is not discussed may be symptomatic of the fact that those on receiving end cannot allow themselves to even verbalize their reactions, should they be seen as ingrates. That we so strongly expect expressions of gratitude and even an attitude of humility on the part of recipients is telling; we are, to some degree, intentionally making a show of position and expect that others should recognize it.
Truly, the children of God have received the greatest gift, that of adoption into His family. And for that we are eternally grateful and it draws us to Him. In 1 John, we are told that the proper response to this great and unrepayable love of God is to love others and obey God's will. "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are...
Even those acting in love may be prone to insensitivity.