Our teacher instructed us that our class would exchange valentines in an orderly fashion, row by row, meaning the first row would stand and walk down each of the other rows of desks, passing out valentines to those of us seated. It all sounded wonderful, until I saw a horrific sight. Three gift boxes, beautifully wrapped in white paper with shiny red ribbon, sitting at Marvin's desk. I thought, "Oh no, he CAN'T have brought these gifts for me. If he gives me these gifts in front of the class, it will be like flashing neon lights, advertising Marvin's undying love for me, and I will be embarrassed beyond measure." Sure enough, when Marvin's row stood up, he proudly carried those gifts to my row, and gently set them down on my desk with a smile. I panicked, not saying a word. I felt the entire class was staring at me. What could I do? I tried to give them away to the girl sitting next to me, but she wouldn't take them. I then saw my teacher staring at me with disapproval. After the valentine exchange was over, my teacher called me up to her desk and said something I'll never forget: "Antoinette, if you don't want the gifts Marvin gave you, you should take them home and give them to someone else, but don't try to give them away in the class. It will hurt his feelings." I couldn't believe her lack of sympathy for me. I thought, "Why are Marvin's feelings more important than my feelings of humiliation?" Little did I realize the power in my teacher's words. Not once did I think about Marvin's intentions, nor about the time and expense that Marvin's mother probably spent to shop, purchase, and wrap those gifts for her son to give to me.
As an adult, we have to continually remind ourselves of this life lesson....whenever we dismiss a kind gesture from someone whom we really don't want as a friend or a date, or from someone who we feel can't benefit us in some way. Whether it's not returning a smile, text, email or a phone call, or whether it's not responding to their invitation, not expressing thanks for a gift or favor, we are acting like a self-centered first grader.
The next time someone shows you kindness, show your appreciation and gratefulness. It not only will help them feel good about themselves, but you will feel better about yourself, as it always feels good when we act honorably rather than selfishly.