By Ox Drover
When I was a kid growing up, one of the “old sayings” that was bandied around the family was the one about “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” As a small child this didn’t make any sense, since there weren’t any Greeks that I knew of living anywhere around where we lived in central Arkansas. (The phrase actually refers to the story of the ancient Greeks invading Troy by hiding soldiers in a massive wooden horse that was given to the city as a gift—the Trojan Horse.)
This saying could have been paraphrased as “beware of ANYONE that you don’t trust bearing gifts.”
Many cultures teach their children that if someone does a favor for you, the “law of reciprocity” means you are indebted to them if you accept the favor. My own culture, the Scots-Irish, will do a favor for almost anyone, but will only accept a favor from someone who is a very close friend or relative, and very trusted.
Giving to a neighbor
When we moved back to Arkansas on a small 6-acre farmette, my son and I purchased some dairy goats, as he was allergic to cow milk. Goats are like rabbits and multiply rapidly, and before long we were milking seven, with much more milk than we could use, so we fed it to young pigs.
One of our neighbors, who lived on a large farm, had found an orphan deer and they were bottle feeding it. I know that deer are first cousins to goats, and that a baby deer will literally starve to death on cow milk. I asked them if they would like some goat milk to feed their baby deer, and told them I was literally pouring out excess milk. They refused to take it, but later came back begging to buy it because their baby deer was starving to death! Being the contrary person that I am, I REFUSED TO SELL IT TO THEM, but would GIVE IT TO THEM. Knowing what I was doing, I actually forced these people who didn’t know me very well to accept a favor from me.
I knew these people were uncomfortable by accepting a gift from a relative stranger, so I put them between a rock and a hard place. They were forced to choose between letting their pet starve, or accepting a favor from me. They took the favor, and afterwards we became very, very good friends, until their deaths some 20 years later.
I guess really this was sort of “mean” of me to knowingly make them uncomfortable, because I knew their cultural prejudices and I knew why they were reluctant to take the milk when I first offered it to them. I could have chosen to sell the milk to them and had an “even trade.” I decided, though, that I wanted them for friends, and by making them accept my favor, I knew they would think I was the “best neighbor.”
Gifts and trust
Many of us have the same feelings, though they are maybe not conscious, but more subconscious, that people who do nice things for us when they first meet us are courtly, generous, giving, helpful, etc. We think they are more trustworthy than they really are.
Me giving those people milk, knowing I had them in a place they could hardly refuse, that they wouldn’t refuse, and knowing it would raise me in their esteem unconsciously, wasn’t for any financial or other kind of gain. But if I had been a psychopath, it very well could have been. Within a month of meeting me and accepting the gift of the milk, those people would have given me the keys to their house. I was a trusted family friend.
Have you ever met someone who instantly wanted to be your “best friend?” Who wanted to do things for you or give you things when you hardly know them? Psychopaths frequently do this, and it is sometimes called the “love bomb.” The potential victim is “set up” by the cult or abuser by being very, very giving and generous to them with kind words, kind deeds, and other things that will raise the psychopath in the esteem of the victim. “He is so sweet, he brought me roses every time we went out.” “He is just such a wonderful person.”
Actually, bringing me roses doesn’t prove you are a nice person. Or, like my psychopathic now ex-boyfriend, mowing my egg donor’s yard, or helping out around my farm, didn’t mean he was a nice guy. About a week after I started dating him, my washing machine died. I mentioned I was going to have to get another one the next day, and he immediately said, ”Oh, I’ll buy you a new washer.”
Immediately my WARNING: RED FLAG sign went up (“Beware of new friends bearing gifts”) and I thanked him but said, “No, thank you, that’s way too big a gift for you to get me, I’ll buy my own.” He was actually offended and sort of “huffed” about the rest of the evening. I later found out that he had bought large items for his harem of girlfriends while he was married, even paid their rent, etc. I didn’t, however, ACT ON the “warning” at that time; I only realized it later.
Money from mom
After my late husband was killed and I retired, I had no real pressing financial needs as everything I own was paid for. My egg donor, who is probably quite a bit better off financially than I am, though, kept asking me if I “needed money.” I always told her, “Nope, I’m doing fine, thanks.”
However, she did this frequently enough that it got to be kind of a strain between us. Finally she said one day, with frustration in her voice, “You wouldn’t take it if you did need it, would you?”
Though we were still at that time on “good terms,” I told her “Honestly, no I wouldn’t. I’m a big girl and I have lived within my means since I have been an adult and supported myself. The only money I ever took from you was the money I borrowed from you for the kids’ school tuition while I was in college and I paid that back.”
Later, when I went to the probate court to get the Trojan Horse Psychopath tossed out of her home, and my cousin appointed as her power of attorney (she had taken me off and appointed my DIL who was later arrested after stealing $24,000 from mother and trying to kill my other son), my mother told her attorney how “generous she had been to me.” I guess she was referring to the $100 she had given me for my birthdays and once when she had given me $10,000 at Christmas “so the IRS won’t get it after I’m dead.” (Mind you, not because she wanted to give it to me, but to keep the IRS from getting it.)
Reciprocity is a good thing. My best friend and I do things for or give each other things all the time. We don’t even keep any “score” on who has done the most for the other. But over all, it “evens out” through the years. This year she may do more for me, or I may do more for her, but it has never been one sided. That’s the way it should be. Some give and some take in relationships. Not one-sided.
Especially in new relationships, notice the reciprocity, or lack of it, in the relationship. Does it come on too fast? Are they trying to give too much or take too much? Are they trying to push the relationship too fast forward so that you don’t have time to really get to know them in a variety of situations? If so, be aware that you should keep an eye on “new friends who come bearing way too many gifts, way too soon.”