Carlo and his wife Tina pass in front of our door with their dog. They are new – distant – neighbors. Cautious types. Animal lovers. Fond of the defenseless, perhaps because they themselves had to be defenseless so often. In their old place of residence they often called the police because of the neighbors, they say. We were surrounded by Nazis who made a ruckus day and night, they say. Well. Who knows. Doesn’t matter either. We get along just fine. We know each other through the dogs and when we meet we talk a little about everyday things. I was standing in front of the gate when the three of them walked by. Carlo had a bandage around his right hand. He is a painter and decorator. Wear and tear, he says when I ask him about the injury. The cartilage. He has to go for an MRI in three weeks. Maybe it will be operated. A small tear in the cartilage. – „Wait a minute,“ I say. „I just remembered something. We have this ointment. Someone once mixed it for us, and we don’t really need it. It’s just sitting around in the fridge. It’s with comfrey. It’s actually good for broken bones. But who knows. Take it. Maybe it helps. It’s better than surgery. I’ll just go get them.“ – I start walking and see how the two of them become somewhat embarrassed and indecisive. They didn’t want that after all. Too much closeness. – They have to go through with it, I think to myself, and come back with the ointment. I put it in Carlo’s hand and say: „Try it. We don’t need it anymore. If it helps, then that’s great.“ „Yes, thank you.“ they both say a little stiffly and at a loss. Unsure of the situation.
The ointment has helped. They have ordered some more on the Internet. Our relationship is good.
But why am I telling this story? I’m telling it because what was actually remarkable was that we didn’t get anything back from those two for the ointment. Nothing. Not a flower. No bottle of wine. No nothing at all. They were happy that the unsolicited gift helped, but no direct thank you or anything like that came. Wonderful! A gift was recognized and accepted. Carlo was in need. I had the ointment. Period. There was the end of the chain. There were no obligations. No one felt compelled to make good on anything now. I didn’t have to say to any counter-gift, „You didn’t have to do that!“ And so on. Refreshingly simple and clear! He took the ointment and it helped him. That’s good enough for me. I expect nothing. And I don’t want anything. I was the one who forced the ointment on them. Such a unilateral action must be done only out of love and not to bribe someone or to make them dependent. I was happy that I was able to convey this intention to the two of them and that they did not feel in any debt.
I was especially pleased because in my understanding, this is exactly how I deal with unsolicited gifts. Whoever does me a favor without being asked may only do so out of love. But often it is more about bribery and the attempt to create dependencies. Then the problems actually start when I don’t feel like I belong to this game and lack the expected kind of gratitude. He who gives out of love rejoices in my attitude. He who gives to me in order to take from me, gives to me without me wanting it and accuses me of ingratitude without me having done anything to it.