An early memory of mine is having an elderly woman ask me to help her carry a jug of milk out to her car. Mother OK'd it. Returning to my mom, I showed her the quarter the woman had given me in exchange. My mother looked disappointed, and told me to give it back. I did not understand why - "I had earned it" - but nonetheless complied. Since, only on rare occasion, have I accepted tips from others in exchange for casual services. Upon being declined, some give words of blessing, some offer no choice but to accept, some slip a five into your jacket pocket when you turn away.
Today an elderly couple pulled up to my bay, where the driver informed me he could not get his tire pressure light to go out - the label in the door frame with the information required had been removed, and he wasn't sure what his tires should be set at.
"No problem, I know what it is."
I set his pressures right, and circling back to the driver's side window, I saw he had a small wad of cash to give me. In refusal, I lightly gestured "halt" and said it was no trouble.
Stern in visage, his reply: "Oh, come on!"
I had already begun turning away, as I've learned, to avoid that tit for tat of who will cave first, but not quick enough to prevent correlating his facial expression with the tone of his voice. Clearly he was put off by my refusal to accept his money, as if he were still on the highway and someone'd just cut him off. I walked back around around the car I was working on and hid behind the propped hood until I saw his taillights far in the distance.
The experience somewhat haunted me all day: did I deprive him of the same joy I am to feel when giving to others? A native American tradition of potlatch has been described thusly, "In the potlatch, the host in effect challenged a guest chieftain to exceed him in his 'power' to give away or to destroy goods. If the guest did not return 100 percent on the gifts received and destroy even more wealth in a bigger and better bonfire, he and his people lost face and so his 'power' was diminished." Was this event of mine a simple clash of egos?
I understand the lesson my mother taught me: I am mine to give, and giving is payment enough. But the topic has remained a moral conundrum for me, that duality between existences, and I suppose today really put the subject into the limelight. I would like to see what you all have to say on the topic.