I had an experience today that I think illustrates an important skill that I would dare say nearly all of us could work on: the ability to accept the generosity of others.

On Sunday, my bike was stolen. On Monday, I mentioned it to the class I'm teaching. One of my older students told me that he had a bike he would sell me for $25. I told him I'd take it. He brought it in the next day, gave me the bike and left class before I could pull out my wallet to pay him. I have to admit I'm still a little peeved that he did that, but it's given me something to think about.

We all seem to be pretty adept at giving. I'm also convinced that a truly manly man expects to pay for services and objects he uses. But from time to time someone will want to perform an act of generosity, of giving to us without accepting compensation. I have two questions that stem from this (thought I feel one's a bit rhetorical): How willing should we be to take the generosity others offer us? and How do we accept these acts with grace?

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It is often difficult to accept gifts, as Will mentions, because we feel in debt. Further it might feel like a threat to our masculinity if we interpret accepting a gift as being a mooch or meaning that we can't provide for ourselves or our families. However, it was widely accepted in the middle ages that largess (generosity with material goods and wealth) was an important aspect of chivalry and therefore very manly indeed. Therefore when someone is generous towards me I consider accepting the generosity as a way of helping the giver be a more chivalrous man. I also make note of the generosity so that even if a can't pay them back with money I will try to pay them back with kindness. You never know when the person who was generous to you today will be in need of assistance tomorrow.
I've looked at this issue from the other side: How do you get someone to *accept* generosity (such as charity or repayment of a debt they don't want returned)? I tell them, "Look, if you don't want the money, then do me a favor and donate it to charity for me." This is remarkably effective. Who can resist this? They'll take it, and probably forget their initial enthusiasm for being charitable, and end up keeping the money. But this is the original goal anyway. If they do follow through, they give it to charity and someone is better off.
The question of feeling in debt is really important to me in regards to this question. Last night I finished grading papers for this class. When I came to this particular student's paper, I had a hard time giving it a fair grade because I felt like I "owed" him something. To be fair, I'm about 99% sure that this guy gave the bike to me with no expectation that it would affect his grade in the class. And whether he expected it or not, we completed that transaction to his apparent satisfaction, so why should I feel like I still owe him?Is this just one of those things I'm going to have to accept is going to take time to change? I think it may be. Until then, I'm going to have to be a little more careful about working with taking stuff from my students I suppose.

I like the idea of a "thank you" and a handshake. I think accepting generosity with this kind of grace is moving in the right direction.
Robert Ringer (Author of "Winning through Intimidation") stated that all transactions should be value-for-value - and that 'free' offers will come back to bite you - often times in ways way beyond the simple transaction. Always best to pay for services (can be barter, lessons, money, etc.).
I might be a little late to this party, but I wanted to throw in my two cents.

I would say this is definitely made more difficult because this (presumably young) man, regardless of expectation, is "beholden" to you in this relationship, because you are his instructor and he is your student. It's obviously different when the generosity is from someone who you are beholden *to* (like a parent or a mentor), or someone with whom you exchange generosities frequently (like a close friend).

No matter the situation, however, I always do the following - as soon as I'm able, I write them a thank you card on my own stationary and give it to them privately (no need to embarrass anybody) with a firm handshake and a thank you. If the generosity was significant, I try to ply them with a gift I find appropriate (not too expensive or elaborate, and nothing that could be regarded as "cheap" - usually a bottle of something, or a few cigars, or a book that I think they might enjoy with a short inscription on the flyleaf). But usually the card is enough - I feel my obligation to the person discharged at that point and can go about my business. The returned kindness, even if it seems small, will be worlds apart from what most others would do, anyway.

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