December 26, 2011 at 2:00 AMGreetings,
Thanks, Buri. Your dissatisfaction is very helpful.
Gratitude and, yes, reciprocity, are bigger in some cultures than the others for sure. In Canada, I frequently find it hard to find the right balance between giving and the expectation of some response from the recipient. I definitely believe that being thankful is the secret to happiness and I’ve got a Chinese sign of "Everyday is a good day" in office to remind myself.
I’m going to make this sweeping generalization: there are two kinds of people in the world: the givers/helpers and the takers. This has everything to do with what kind of person one wants to be.
When I was little, I couldn’t understand for instance why my grandmother, who didn’t have much to start with, was always without thinking so generous and gave every last bit of stuff she had to others when the need occurred. Some people took advantage of it and that clearly upsets her but didn’t stop her doing this again and again. I was convinced from very early on that givers had a bad deal in the world and I would definitely not want to be one when I grow up. The older I got however the more I noticed that I was more and more like my grandmother. For years people have been telling me that I give too much, that I should ask for more. A therapist I had years ago even hinted that there was something wrong with my self-esteem because I was “giving myself away”. Givers are not necessarily considered cool people, not in North America anyway. Getting into the reasons what people have can be quite depressing. But givers are always givers. You take the good and bad with you:)
On the receiving side, one of the most difficult things for me to adjust in Canada when I first came was what I saw to be a lack of reciprocity among people. It made me feel deeply cold to be around them. But I am an extreme case in that I usually get so touched by any favor people gave to me that I feel that saying “thank-you” is usually not enough. I need to give something back right away if I can. And there are favors that I will never be able to pay back, such as what I’ve received from people who helped me on my career path, or in my learning something really important to me, such as violin. So in these cases I need to catch myself when showing too much gratitude overtly which could result making people feeling uncomfortable.
I explored a bit and was intriguing to find out some different ways of addressing this issue. One sticks out is the notion some people hold that favor is, as it were, some kind of common currency that can be passed from one person to the other. You helped X, Y, Z in the past so when A, B, C does something for you, you shouldn’t feel you owe the latter anything because you paid your due in the past to someone else and this is how favors get passed around in the world. This may work especially when one lives in the environment where people are so much rely on such exchange of favors in order to get anywhere, such as, in the academic world, or among a bunch of foreigners who need a lot of help to get around.
By the way, when I was in Kyoto last month, I got a pretty strong impression that people there say “thank you” when favors are given to them but don’t necessarily reciprocate. I don’t consider whether it is good or bad, but only that it is.
Thank you again Buri, for another thoughtful blog. It’s been a while and I’m sure I’m not the only v.commee is hugely thankful to see Buri’s return.
Happy New Year!
You're a total treasure, and I thank you for sharing yourself with us!
Wishing you a very Happy New Year (and a Festive Groundhog Day -- a bit early, but I like to be prepared),
At least they come right out and say "Merry Christmas" instead of all this politically correct "Happy Holidays" crap. After all, Christmas is a religious celebration - even if your god is the almighty dollar and/or the huge corporations that rake them in.
Sorry about the rant, I just had to get that off my chest. We had a nice little Christmas, first with family and then with a friend with whom we played Corelli (he and I on violin, my wife on cello) until we were ready to fall over. I hope you all had a warm, friendly and musical Christmas as well.
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