For Giving, Not For Getting

Published January 4, 2012 by Susan Woodward

Every year when I return to school after the winter break, I am asked, “Ms Woodward, what did you get for Christmas?” immediately followed by, “I got…” before I can open my mouth in reply.   The questions then gravitate toward other students as they enter the room (many even before they reach their desks) in a competition of who got what.  Then the one-up-manship begins as many try to outdo their classmates with their litany of loot accumulated over the holiday season.  It’s actually pretty painful to think that this is all that the winter break seemed to mean to a lot of my students.

By the fifth or sixth time a student asked me what I got, I turned the question around and asked, “So what did you give?”  When he began to tick off the presents he’d bought, I asked, “That’s nice, but what did you give of yourself?”  I figured this tactic would be a good diversion from the Litany of Loot, and since this was during a study hall, it wasn’t taking away from my lesson plans, so I pursued the question.  I asked him what he gave of himself to his family or friends.  He finally got around to saying that he’d helped his Dad clean out the garage (even though it was a grudgingly done chore), and I asked if he and his Dad talked about anything while they were cleaning.  He told me that they’d talked about football and school and things that his Dad wants to do with the house.  That’s when  I said, “Don’t you think your Dad appreciated that one-on-one time more than anything you could buy?  You gave him a gift of yourself.”   When another student smirked at the conversation we were having, the first student turned to the other and asked, “So what did YOU give, huh?”

It ended up being a pretty good half-hour of hearing how they spent time with family, especially younger cousins or siblings that they played with or put toys together for or taught to play a new game.  That was much better than the Litany of Loot.  I pointed out that the spirit of the season was more for giving and not for getting.

The phrase stuck in my mind the rest of the day like one of those songs that you just can’t quit humming unconsciously after hearing it on the radio…and it led me to ponder that old adage “forgive and forget”; however, I really liked “forgiving, not forgetting” better.   To forgive and forget seems, especially for those who have been in abusive situations, to produce a vicious circle.   While forgiving is the best thing to do to promote healing (especially self-healing), forgetting might open the door for repeat offenses.  I would rather forgive someone, but not forget about the lesson to be taken from the situation. 

For example, I can forgive my ex-fiance for his betrayal, but that does not mean that I will forget what he did.  I tried the “forgive and forget” thing the first few times he hurt me, and I took him back.  Three times.  Only he repeated the behavior because my “forgetting” seemed to give him permission to go ahead and do it again since there had been little consequence.  This time, though, I got off the merry-go-round and ended the cycle for good.   At this point,  I can forgive him, but I will not forget.  This will keep me from falling into similar patterns of behaviors in the future.  Forgive the offense, but never forget the lesson.

Funny how this all started with, “So what did you get for Christmas?”

I am getting a better sense of self-esteem.

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