Please enjoy this guest post on receiving by my sister, jgk!
Ah…that old bugaboo we learn as children that it is nobler to give than to receive, yet many adults find the act of receiving far more difficult.
There are so many events in our lives that give us the opportunity to say thank you. Day-to-day living, doors held open, kind advice, acts of charity, and even compliments from friends and strangers. There are entire corporations which encourage even glorifying the act of giving. Large and small charities screen colorful, sympathetic commercials encouraging us to donate to their worthy causes. We are virtually patted on the back for our generous donations. We feel positive and generous. The holidays of Christmas, Passover and birthdays create opportunities of exuberant gift giving. It’s great fun to watch a six-year-old tear apart a colorful box to discover her new toy, but when Aunt Emma is then handed a ribbon festooned box there can be a very different reaction. She may seem embarrassed and insist you shouldn’t have.
Most Americans are raised in a culture that encourages humility and scorns entitlement and hubris. We are instructed from childhood that we should appear thankful when we receive a gift even if it is not the shiny red firetruck we had our heart set on, or the Red Rider BB gun. Grandma’s gift of a new book and paper check for your college fund just doesn’t engender the same gratefulness as the latest Lego kit or sparkly stuffed unicorn, but its our job to pretend.
A number of psychologists suggest a more clinical view that one reason receiving is more difficult is because it denotes control. The giver is in control because they are the one to choose the gift, the price, the recipient. The receiver not so much. They are the passive party. While we feel positive about giving, to receive, we must open ourselves up to it, thus placed in a more vulnerable position. For example, how often do we hear someone respond to a compliment by brushing it aside, rejecting or deflecting it, often with a smile. We less often hear a sincere thank you. This seemed especially true of females who have been historically groomed to appear demure, nonaggressive, ‘not too pushy’, ‘feminine’. Uuuggh!
I have another position. I was raised by a parent who rarely said thank you. I realize now in my old age that she was a product of her upbringing. The father was a tyrant and her mother had died when she was only three years old. As a young mother herself, she was ill-equipped to raise children with healthy egos. Luckily the younger of the seven children seem to have fared better perhaps because she mellowed but also because of a wonderful stepfather who was kind generous and thoughtful. As my mother’s second child I have absorbed many of her irritating issues, yet my wonderful sister, the sixth child, has always been quite different and quick to acknowledge thoughtfulness. Perhaps for the next generation it will be easier to say thanks. As women’s grow into their voices and recognize their power and worth, we will all come to realize how liberating and comfortable it is to simply say Thanks.