artofneighboringOur staff enjoys reading books together as a way of continuing education. We are currently reading through The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon.

This week’s chapter was titled The Art of Receiving. The chapter begins by asking if you’ve ever been in a one-sided relationship, one where you are the giver.  Maybe it is a situation you’ve taken on to try to help someone in need.  Often we jump into these relationships with gusto, looking forward to making a difference, but over time if the relationship remains one-way, we can become weary from the feeling of being the only giver in the relationship.  Obviously, many things play into these scenarios.  Maybe they’re one-way because we’ve avoided being vulnerable, making the other person feel more like a project then a relationship.   Maybe we have, even unintentionally, given off the feeling that we have it all together and there is nothing the other person has to give in this relationship.

As our staff began to discuss times when we’ve been on either side of this feeling of one-sided giving/receiving we realized more and more the life-giving feeling of one of our TRH core values, reciprocity.  Reciprocity can be defined as the power of mutual exchange in a relationship.  As we shared, I relayed an event from my son’s 1st grade birthday party that has stayed with me for 17+ years.

Our family lived in Hungary during our children’s elementary years and all three attended Hungarian schools.  Birthday parties were a big deal in Hungary, and parties included every single boy (or girl) in your class.  I always enjoyed making the usual soccer themed cake for the boys to share with their friends.  After eating the cake, we opened presents. This birthday, we all gathered around our son Justin, as one by one the boys brought him their gifts.  We could pretty much assume that each gift was going to be a soccer ball or a toy car and either gift would be accompanied by a chocolate bar.  Justin really loved the attention and expressed his excitement to each of his friends after opening each gift.

As my husband and I watched this scene play out we noticed one little boy, Csongor, hanging back, kind of off to the side by himself.  He wasn’t in the mix to see if he could get his gifts to Justin before the other boys but instead held his gifts by his side, almost as if trying to hide what he’d brought.  I thought about what I knew of this little boy.  I knew he rode on the back of his Dad’s bicycle each day to and from school.  I knew he was shy and didn’t seem to take part in the class soccer games.  I really didn’t know much else.

Eventually, all of the other boys’ gifts had been opened and it was Csongor’s time to present his gift to Justin.  All eyes were on the timid boy as he hesitantly handed Justin his gift.  I tensed, waiting to see what had the boy feeling so insecure.  Justin tore into the package to reveal 2 cans of pineapple.  Almost immediately there were a few snickers from the group of boys.  I could see Csongor beginning to shrink back to the wall again, feeling embarrassed.  At that moment, I heard our eldest exclaim with more enthusiasm then he had for the soccer balls and cars, “Pineapple, that’s my favorite, Csongor!  Thanks so much!  Mom, can we go ahead and open these up and eat them?”  With tear filled eyes I saw a little embarrassed boy swell with pride as the other boys gave him a pat on the shoulder.

That night, after the chaos died down and we were tucking our kids into bed, we commended Justin for his gracious response to Csongor’s gift.  Justin looked at us and said, “I really do love pineapple, and I think it was really nice that he would give those to me. Nobody should make fun of him, he brought what he had.”

Reciprocity can seem like a small thing really, and often we can dismiss the opportunity by suggesting the giver need not do something for us at all because we feel badly about their sacrifice, but for the giver, it can be very powerful to be able to play a part in the exchange.  And true relationships involve healthy two-way exchanges where both parties have a chance to give and receive well.