Last week, we talked about expressing our gratitude when someone gives us a gift or when they share something with us that makes us happy. This week let’s look at expectations of the giver.

It really has to do with what your definition of of a “gift” is.  When I give a gift, I believe that I give something of value to someone and there are no strings or conditions attached.  So, if I get a “thank you”, no acknowledgement at all, or a big deal gets made out of it, I try to let it have little to no affect on me.  If there is some reaction on my part, I ask myself, “what was my intent…was I looking for something in return?” and has it been fulfilled?” Otherwise, it doesn’t fit my definition of a gift. This is clearly not everybody’s definition of a gift.  Your intention is always the key.

I certainly was not raised with that definition. It has developed over time as I allowed myself and my thinking to be challenged by more astute and wiser colleagues.  I think the ability to grow comes about when you allow yourself to be around people who are more knowledgeable than you and who are willing to challenge your thinking and behaviors.  It is like looking into a mirror and having someone who you trust and admire challenge your thinking and behavior. That is what a good consultant does.

I grew up in a family that taught that everybody was treated equally, meaning loved the same.  My mother was great at saying: “all three of you kids are equal, I treat you all the same, I have no favorites.”  Wow!  We just didn’t believe her; we all knew who her favorite was. That’s the way it works in families. You can’t hide your natural affinity and attraction towards one of your children.  It happens all the time.  Unfortunately, most parents try to deny it; kids see through it.  That favorite child has a part of you the way none of the others have and when you see or feel that part of you being expressed in them (one may look like you, be the same sex as you, have your wit or disposition), you have a natural drawn affinity towards that child.

So, in my family growing up, I learned that love was a commodity, there was a limited amount to go around, and you wanted to make sure that you got your fair share.  A lot of families, unconsciously, work like this.  If I give you something (love), I am expecting something in return. That is not real giving that is a transactional interaction.  Real LOVE is something given freely, unconditionally, and has no expectation of getting something in return.

So, to get back to the original question, “what about me,”- if I give a gift and expect something in return – that dynamic probably started at a very early age of development in your family when you saw love and affection being distributed – either emotionally or through goods and actions – to other members of the family.  It comes from a very primitive feeling that there is not enough to go around and you have to compete with your siblings for love, attention and affection.  So, at a young age you can begin to think that life is a bartering system, that is, I give you something if you give me something in return. That is a way of thinking. However, it is a limited way of viewing life.  I would rather view life from the point of view that there is plenty of love to go around as long as I’m willing to generate love, put forth effort, commitment, determination and resilience.  Anything can be improved.

I’d like to challenge your thinking a little further in this area of giving and receiving gifts.  Would it be OK for Tom to receive Patriot’s tickets for his birthday, be very grateful and express that gratitude clearly to the giver, John…and at the same time – hear his friend Bill express his excitement for Tom and say, “that’s wonderful, I would love to have gotten a gift like that, I’ve never been to a Patriot’s game in my life!”  So, would it be OK…can Tom turn around and give those tickets to his friend Bill because Tom wants him to have that same experience of being equally delighted?  Here is how it works in my definition. John, the original giver of the tickets, is complete as soon as he lets the tickets go…no strings…he is completely free of the tickets and what happens to them.  It would be perfect for Tom to accept the tickets; that ends his gifting relationship with John.  There are no strings or conditions attached so Tom is now free to do whatever he wants with the tickets including giving them away, selling them or never using them at all.  Tom received them gratefully and just as joyously passed them on to Bill.  Amen.  That is my definition of a gift.  John, if he is healthy, is delighted also because his gift had such a large affect.

Therefore, when you give a gift, if you feel like you are owed something in return, then it’s not really a gift (by my definition).  I would feel better calling it an exchange, that is, I’m giving you something so that you will give me something in return.

I think this is also how my definition of LOVE works.  I love you whether you love me or not.  Love is the engine of well-being.  As long as my intent is to be loving, life will work wonderfully.  When my love is conditional on how you respond to me, it gets messy and turns out to be a bartering or exchange relationship.  There’s nothing wrong with a bartering or exchange relationship; but let’s not call that love.  Relationships work better with love.  Check it out. See whether or not your love for somebody is conditional on their responses.  Why do couples have so much difficulty having good sex lives?  Their behavior falls into a bartering context; you give me sex if I behave this way for you.  It is not love; and it kills the relationship.

I hope I’ve opened a lot of questions and ideas.  Let’s continue to discuss these issues below.

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