REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION from the Florida Jewish News

A key, maybe THE key to relationships is being a giver, not a taker. But even that isn’t enough. You have to give what the other person actually wants, not what YOU would want.

Scene 1

The old lady shuffled into the room, wanting desperately to be helpful, wanting to be noticed and appreciated, something that hadn’t happened often in her life. Her eyes darted around the room, wondering what she could do.

No one asked for this help, mind you. No one even knew what she was up to. It was all her idea. She saw a pile of bread crumbs sitting on the counter and decided that she could wipe up the counter. What a great idea. She took a paper towel, wet it, and swept the crumbs onto it. She threw it in what looked like it could have been the trash.

Shortly, her son suggested it was a good time to drive her home.

Several hours later, when her daughter-in-law came home from her errands, she washed her hands, put on her apron, took the fish out of the fridge, and walked over to where she was going to bread it. She stared blankly at the missing bread crumbs. She could have sworn she’d left them there since she’d had enough left over from her morning cooking to use for the fish. This put a bit of a crimp in her schedule as that was the last of the bread crumbs. “I’ll have to go out again,” she mumbled, grabbing the recycling bag to take with her to the grocery store. “Hm,” she thought, “why is this recycling dirty?” Looking closer, she saw that mixed in with the Styrofoam containers were two wet paper towels and a mess of scattered crumbs.

Sighing, she knew who the culprit was: Somebody who really, really wanted to be nice and helpful.


Scene 2

The father cradled the phone in his ear, purring with satisfaction as he reviewed the highlights of his son’s glorious wedding the day before. He was so happy that his son was happy. “So tell me,” he said, thinking he would bring a chuckle to his son’s mouth, “how was it, you know, last night?”


His son stared at the phone in complete disbelief, his jaw remaining open for a full 58 seconds.


Surprised by the silence, the father said, “Son? Son?” into what seemed like a dead phone.


Scene 3

He was fourteen and he’s been sneaking over to his friend’s house to play piano. Above and beyond all things, his father could not find out. “Musicians starve!” his father had bellowed when he once tentatively brought up the subject of taking music lessons. His response left no doubt that that topic was off the list. But Joe couldn’t help it; the music flowed through his head and he had to get it out onto a keyboard. That’s just the way it was, lessons or no lessons.


When his birthday came, he waited with expectation. Could it be, perhaps, that his mother convinced his father to give him the lessons? The gifts were lovely and thoughtful: a nice sweater, a shirt, a book that would be useful for school. But, as far as music was concerned, not even a CD.


Scene 4

My sweet mother-in-law has given me some beautiful gifts over a near-lifetime: some great dresses, sweaters, old jewelry, but this year, she gave me exactly what I really wanted: A box of Godiva chocolates. I love the other gifts, but this one’s been so much more fun.


We are given so many things, but which of them really constitute a gift? The answer is quite simple: The ones we want.


And here’s another simple rule:

A real gift is never a message that tells the recipient what she or he should want. A gift is what he does want.


Leave the “should”s for a cup of coffee and deep conversation offered in the spirit of: “I have some thoughts for you I’d like to share. Is that okay with you?” If you’re like the people in the scenarios above, you’ll have to accept it if the answer to that question is, “No, thank you.” Those recipients have been victims enough of your, err, “gifts.”

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