Story: You Can Be Generous By Taking.

Surprise! I’m changing the theme of the weekly videos. Instead of the Pigeon of Discontent, I’m going to tell a story each week. I’ve realized that–at least for me, and I suspect for many people–a story is what holds my attention and makes a point most powerfully.

Let me know what you think of this approach.

This week’s story: You can be generous by taking.


If you want to read more along these lines…

Can refusing to give compliments be an act of love?

Why I try not to do things for others, but instead, do them for myself.

To make a friend, ask someone for a favor.

By chance, after I made this video, I started reading Kraybill, Nolt, and Weaver-Zercher’s  book, Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy, about how the Amish community responded to the horrific 2006 shooting of ten schoolgirls at Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.

The Amish rely on mutual aid within their own community, and for that reason, don’t accept outside aid; for instance, they generally don’t use commercial insurance or participate in Social Security. After the shooting, however, they accepted the money and gifts that poured in from all over the country for the families. “We are not asking for aid, but we will receive it,” the Accountability Committee said. One leader said, “The whole nation is grieving. By letting them give, it helps them too.” As the book’s authors explain, the committee “agreed to accept outside donations so that others wouldn’t be deprived ‘of the blessing of giving.'”


Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Slim

    I like the idea of “story” videos and I love this story. It reminds me very much of my grandmother. She is an extraordinary women – and 86 year old widow who still lives on her own. She is really someone to admire, but at the same time, she refused to accept help from us (her family) about anything. She worries so much about being a “bother” or a “burden” to us that she will not accept the smallest amount of help. She won’t let someone pick her up to take her to a family outing but insits on driving herself. She will never let anyone pay for so much as a cup of coffee. While her self-reliance is admirable, a lot of times it feels like she is rejecting us. People show their love by doing nice things for others, and when she refuses that, it almost feels like a rejection of that love. I know she doesn’t mean it that way, but it’s hard to shake that feeling. I think of her when I accept help, and I will probably think of your newspaper story now as well.

  • Olivia

    I like this better than the P.O.D. videos. Nice idea!

  • Sandi Delia

    The spiritual principle at play is “Giving and Receiving are one, in truth.” By rejecting the other person’s offer, your friend denied the stranger an ability to be generous. So I wholeheartedly agree that taking (or receiving) are acts of generosity.

  • Jackie D

    Love the new video approach AND (shallowness alert)..I LOVE your hair! So pretty!

    I see this a lot with friends and going out for meals. Some of my friends are 5-7 years younger than I am and in an earlier stage of their careers, or working high prestige, low paying jobs that can only be held by those with parental financial support or those willing to scrape by in NYC on $30k per annum. (You might not love your favorite museums so much when you discover how they stack the deck against anyone but the affluent ever joining their staff, but that’s another rant.)

    Sometimes a friend will confide that they would love to join our group for a meal, but money is tight. I often have to beg them to let me gift them a meal so that we can have their company. In some situations, the most graceful option is for me to treat everyone so as not to single out the person who feels sheepish about accepting a gift (thus costing me more if they just accepted my offer more easily!). The truth is that I love treating people who cannot afford a nice meal or even a cheap meal with good friends. Part of it is because people did it for me at times when I was between jobs or otherwise struggling. But the other part is the simple gratitude of enjoying their company and wanting to see them, a value that far outweighs the cost of any meal.

    In these situations, I often recite a saying I think I picked up from your blog, Gretchen: “Friends don’t keep track.” And you have to really believe that when you do this, or you’re just cultivating resentment. But it does take real generosity for a person to accept a gift gladly given.

  • Frances

    I like this format better than the Pigeons of Discontent too! I generally think stories are great ways of putting advice, lessons, and ideas into a better (and often more relatable) context.

  • Tessa

    I LOVE this new format for the video. My whole life is a story – I love telling them, I love listening to them……….. thanks, Gretchen – your stories will certainly enrich our lives.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that people like this idea.

  • Acappellalady

    I remember visiting my grandparents at their home, which was about an hour and a half drive for me… and even though I was well into my 40’s and working a successful full-time job, they always insisted on giving me money for gas and tolls when I would be ready to leave. I always felt a little funny taking it since they were both retired and living on fixed incomes, but it always seemed to make them very happy to “help” me out any way they could no matter what…
    My Grandpa has sinced passed on, and Grandma is now in assisted living, but I am paying their generosity forward by buying incidentals and clothing that she wants/needs from various catalogs and having the items delivered directly to her… or just getting them from the store and bringing them with me when I visit. She is always so grateful for the company and the help…

  • Keith St.Onge

    I love that story. Simple but having an impact. I know someone that was a giver and he gave to others so much he could not receive. He ended up going bankrupt in the end because (in my own opinion) he was lop sided. He never had a balance of giving and receiving. He did not go bankrupt because he gave so much away but because he was not balanced in life.
    I just wrote a book that is not yet published but has many of my own life stories and lessons that reflect your story. Thanks for the receiving message today.

  • Sharyn

    I grew up with the concept of “You are blessed to be a blessing”.

    It is, actually, a “circle”. Someone has to give, in order for someone to receive and someone has to receive, in order to let someone give. Gratitude and joy come from both.

    • Joanne

      I always loved that line… Thanks for the reminder!

  • peninith1

    First, brilliant move on your part, Gretchen! Love this new approach, and think it will be very fruitful in getting us all to think on our own treasure house of stories!
    A friend of mine once memorably said, or quoted to me: “Accepting the love is the first duty of the beloved.”
    Wow. How much of our lives do we spend fending off the love, out of some kind of fear–loss of independence, or having to come up to scratch and return that love, or being under an obligation, or being offered a green balloon when we were dreaming of a red one?
    Yet the times come for us all when we are in need, in weakness, or have merely forgotten to put a $5 in our pocket before we go out to run.
    In my own family, my Mom used to be very difficult to please with a gift. Now, at 88, she is thankful and grateful for the smallest of attentions. She generously helped me with financial support at a rough patch when I was in my 30s. Later, I was able to start helping her as her income shrank. Did she know I would do that? No, she just gave me what I needed, and trusted that it would all work out somehow. That is my guide for helping my own kids–to give without calculating what they really need and will strengthen them, trusting that if I have a need down the road, they will do their best to help, as they certainly did last year when I was ill.
    We do forget our power to nurture love in the world or in our families by ACCEPTING LOVE. Look at all the terrific people who came to the Northeast to cook free meals or help clean up after the storm. Whoever receives their help gratefully, shows faith that one day they will be strong enough to have the wherewithal to give again, and shows gratitude to the giver of all gifts.
    Great story! And I look forward to many more.

  • Jamie SC

    Lovely story! And very true! Reminds me of why ladies should just say thank you when a man offers to do something “manly” like carry heavy things. I need to remember that sometimes.

  • Grandma Honey

    Yes Yes. I love the new story video! My husband even stopped to listen to it. I’m already looking forward to your next one!

  • Jan

    I am not able to give “big” if you like, but if the opportunity arises to give a “small” token of generosity, this pays off big for me…I smile and feel happy …

  • RoecocoUK

    I love both types of video post, Gretchen. It would be just great if you could make both and surprise us each week with what we’re going to get! Your story about taking is spot on. I was in a shop recently and a lady in front of me didn’t have enough cash for her purchase. I asked what she needed and it was a small amount so I gave her the money. She accepted gratefully and graciously and explained that the gift was for her son’s 18th birthday; I felt like I helped two people in one go! Her acceptance of my help was a gift to me as it made me happy. I’ve been glowing from my random act of kindness ever since!

  • Elizabeth

    I love the new format! Much more positive and uplifting…happier!
    And what a timely post. I invited a friend without family or money to join us for Thanksgiving dinner. She kept asking what she could bring and I kept saying, “Nothing, just yourself.” Finally I realized—I was making her feel “less than” by not allowing her to contribute. Now, she’s bringing the two pies I suggested—and she feels valued and appreciated.

    • gretchenrubin

      A great example.

  • Lalena

    This is so true. I have an elderly bachelor uncle who used to come into town periodically to visit and help out with childcare. He liked to cook and would always offer to make dinner. On one occasion, my then-husband got upset about how we were “taking advantage” of my uncle by “making” him babysit and cook. He insisted on cooking dinner himself instead of letting my uncle do it. My uncle was so upset by this refusal of his gift that he didn’t come to visit again until my husband and I split up. Once it was just me, he started coming again and I was happy to let him babysit and make dinner. He’s in his 90s now and to this day, he talks about how I used to thank him for making even the simplest meals. I don’t think of it so much as “taking”. I think of it as letting someone give.

  • Machtelt

    great idea, great story!

    to me it reminded me of ‘paying it forward’…
    When you allow the other to pay it forward to you,they are happy, you are happy and when you pay it forward to someone, happy feelings all over again!

  • Ennydots

    Me again with the charming kid who can’t walk or talk… I’ve learned this lesson through him. We’ve had so many people enter his life who offer to help and it’s so clear that it makes them feel better to do it. Sometimes they’re going through their own stuff and helping him (or me) seems to put their stuff into perspective. So as much as I was raised to be self-sufficient, he’s taught me to let people into our lives. It certainly strengthens our ties to our community which is a great thing.

  • Carla

    Absolutely. When I was younger I had trouble with this, too, and my mother talked to me about it. Her own mother wouldn’t even accept carefully chosen birthday gifts and would try to give them back. Once I heard that I realized I had to change my attitude. Sometimes the best thing to do is to smile and say, “Thank you. I appreciate it.”

  • ellen

    this was a hard lesson for me…i remember my mom saying you need to learn to accept, graciously!

  • elbee230

    Very simple and we face it quite often. Most often, we are gracious givers. It takes conscious effort to be gracious receivers also. Yes in this case, by saying yes, both would have felt happy and it could have been an Win-Win relationship.