Perhaps among the most difficult of lessons is to give without expectation. We expect the other to like the gift, to show appreciation, and at least to express gratitude, somehow. We expect, in our very gesture of giving, to feel pleasure. All the uncertainty of, “I hope you like it!”; or that of, “You can use the gift receipt to exchange it, if you want,” ... all that aside, we do feel good about giving. It is very difficult, at best, not to be acknowledged.
20 years ago, a grade 12 student, Penelope, alone in the corridors while classes droned on, and not seeing me, turned down a hallway. From the T junction, I noted her veer to some discarded wrapping. Stooping and picking it up, she retreated toward the rubbish receptacle, saw me, and blushed. “I have a hall-pass,” she offered.
I smiled. “Penelope, was that garbage yours?”
“Then why pick it up?”
“Oh. I think it good to help the janitors out,” she offered, blushing again.
“I’m putting your name in for commendation, Penelope. I wish all students would follow your lead and help out around here.”
“My name? Oh no, please don’t do that. “I’ve no desire to get any credit.”
I balked. “But how else to serve as an example to others?”
She demurred. “Well, what about saying you saw someone help out, and hope we all might help out, and leave it at that.”
I beamed. “Done!”
Thing is, that single gesture still resonates, and very many hundreds of students have been told about Penelope, (and now you too.) And no, Penelope was indeed not her name. (And no, the argument does not hold that if we all did it a janitor would be out of a job, ha!)
We do things for each other, one hopes, by contributing to the health of the whole. We are polite, considerate, compassionate, caring, and responsible. Not to expect any reward is a most difficult lesson, indeed. Gifts or no gifts. After all, I want to be liked, loved, and appreciated. It’s natural.
But to continue contributing, silently, unobtrusively, and not to expect anyone even to find out, or necessarily to notice, now that’s the thing of enlightenment. We stoop to pick up other people’s garbage, if not our own, and we dispose of it without looking up to see who is watching. We do it for stranded earthworms. We do it for the helpless. We do it because it is ‘the next right thing.’ Over and over. Or am I hereby waiting for you to respond? Hm?