Anne Mikolay

They say it’s better to give than to receive. Nice words, but are they true?

When I was a kid, receiving was definitely preferable to giving . Birthdays and Christmas, for example, were all about the gifts. The more stuffed animals I accumulated, the better! My parents encouraged my sister and I to share with one another, and though I had no desire to read any of the books in my sister’s favorite Cherry Ames series, and she had little interest in my dolls and toy animals, she and I received the message loud and clear.

The emphasis on sharing was reinforced through the years by our parents’ behavior. Our mother was entirely selfless. She cared for her elderly patients in the nursing home where she worked as if they were family. She put herself last in all things; her children and her husband came first. Our father was much the same. It was not unusual for my father to buy a meal for a homeless person or to give his own coat to a man in need. Both our parents preferred to give than to receive, and they did so without fanfare and expected nothing in return. Eventually, I came around to their way of thinking. Giving is better than receiving; however, I’m not as altruistic as my parents. Unlike them, I expect something in return.

After years of giving, quite often thanklessly, I am wondering: at what point does a “giver” become a sucker? Of course, the entire purpose of giving in the true sense of the word negates the need for recognition. If you are giving to seize the spotlight or to draw effusive thanks and praise, you’re actually only giving to yourself, but if your motivation is kindness to another, and that person wordlessly accepts that kindness time and time again, are you supposed to keep on giving? I’ve lost count of the times I have been in that position. Birthdays, Christmas, weddings, graduations, or spontaneous occasions of my own making…gifts given and unacknowledged. I was raised in the land of “please and thank you,” of thank you notes promptly written, generosity appreciated. Such things are also a matter of practicality. If I mail you a gift, how do I know that gift reached its destination if you don’t tell me? Sadly, etiquette is rarely practiced these days, and that leaves people like me, who enjoy giving, in a bit of a quandary.  Do we continue to give when our efforts are consistently ignored? If I give to you, clearly, you matter to me; if you do not express appreciation, does that mean I do not matter to you?

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Jackson Pines and Cranston Dean in residency at Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park
Jackson Pines and Cranston Dean at Langosta

I’d like to think manners never go out of style, but apparently “common courtesy” isn’t so common anymore. In this age of excess and our rush of living, have we run roughshod over respect and consideration? Have we forgotten that a simple “thank you” is not only an expression of gratitude but an act of empathy as well? The act of giving, whether it’s a gift or a compliment, is an indication that you have been thought about, your feelings have been considered and deemed important. Likewise, the expression of thanks is recognition you care about the feelings of the person who took time for you. Giving and receiving is an art, if you will, one that quite possibly may be as obsolete today as a handwritten thank you note.

Giving without thanks might be the admirable, Christian thing to do, and what I have done in the past, but I’ve reached the age at which I have little tolerance for inauthenticity or rude behavior. If I took the time to remember someone’s special occasion and to wish them well with a gift, I expect that person to respect me enough to express gratitude. I was raised that way; my children were raised that way. We will never achieve a better, gentler world if we can’t even take a mere second to say “thank you” when someone offers us kindness.

Yes, giving is better than receiving, but I expect something in return. Not much really. It doesn’t take much time, and it doesn’t cost a cent. A simple “thank you” will do.

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Anne Mikolay

Anne M. Mikolay joined The Atlantic Highlands Herald as a columnist in 2008. Prior to penning “The Armchair Critic,” Anne wrote feature articles for The Monmouth Journal. Her work has appeared in national...