At a recent week-long group retreat I learned something interesting about generosity. It was suggested that we all meet for a group dinner at a local restaurant on the last day. People got excited about the meal and the closure it would provide the group who had grown pretty close during the week.
“Potlucks” allow everyone to get involved.
The next day, one participant who happened to live close by, extended a generous invitation to us all to gather at his lovely house for a dinner instead. He included the phrase,”don’t bring anything, we’ll provide all the food, we keep kosher”, in the offer. There was an uncomfortable silence that followed before people kept in to thank him for his generosity and to find polite ways to decline. I was one of the ones declining and I felt awkward about it. I mean here was this guy being super generous with sharing his home and his family with our group, and most people seemed within an instant to feel something uncomfortable in the offer. I began to wonder about that.
At first I thought it might be because he mentioned that they were Orthodox Jews who kept kosher, maybe that put people off? But half out group was Jewish so that seemed unlikely as the reason. Perhaps it was that he lived 20 minutes away and we’d have to drive? Again, didn’t feel like the real reason for people begging off.
I spent a good several hours wondering about this and feeling my way through all the possibilities until finally I hit upon it. We had declined because in his offer he took away our opportunity to share. Like being invited to a potluck party only to be told, “don’t bother bringing anything”, it robbed each of us of the opportunity to contribute to the gathering.
Sharing a meal and conversation can make all the difference.
“WE HAD DECLINED BECAUSE HE TOOK AWAY OUR OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE. HE HAD ROBBED EACH OF US OF THE OPPORTUNITY TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE GATHERING.”
When we were all meeting at the restaurant we all brought the same thing to table, we brought ourselves as our gift to each other. In telling us not to bring anything to his home, he unwittingly put himself in the role of provider and took away our opportunities to contribute to each other of some level. That’s what we responded to, that’s what was at the root of our politely offered, “no thank you’s”.
People are built to connect, whether we do it a lot or a little it is what drives us as humans. When we are offered opportunities that somehow limit our ability to connect we pull away. Generosity that shuts a door on sharing and connexion feels uncomfortable to us so the next time you offer something, be sure to build in some way for people to be included and to share. Everyone will jump at your offer.