Lessons from the bedbugs on how to accept compliments

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October 18, 2012 by rebelwithalabelmaker

Eric:  We are supposed to write about something that happened in our lives for school.  I am writing about the time we all got Hepatitis.

Self differentiated, not anxious mother:  That’s nice, honey.

Controlling but in a goodish way mother:  That’s nice, honey.  You know what I was thinking about?  Do you remember that time we all went on that family train trip filled with love?  Or when I chased those robbers?

Me:  Make sure you write that it was Hepatitis A.  The “A” part is important.  And write about how we didn’t spread it despite all the people we had over for dinner while contagious.

At least he’s not writing about the bed bugs, too.

Anthony:  I’m writing about the bed bugs.

Me:  Be sure to say how they were here when we moved in.  They’re not our bed bugs.

Anthony:  Whose bed bugs are they?

Buddha, with the same smile still on his face looks at the old man and asks “If I were to bring you a gift tomorrow morning all wrapped up in a beautiful box would you accept it?” to which the old man replies “Absolutely not, I would take nothing from the likes of you!”. “Ah ha” the Buddha replies “Well if I were to offer you this gift and you were to refuse then who would this gift belong to?”. “It would still belong to you of course” answers the old man. “And so the same goes with your anger, when I choose not to accept your gift of anger , does it not then remain your own?”

Buddha clearly agrees with me about the bed bugs.  Although, I must point out, it’s not that simple.  I am gifted with bed bugs.  And absentmindedness.  And a whole host of other traits that I may choose not to own, but I ignore at my own peril.  Good things, too–a sense of optimism, and a love of writing.

Gifts.  I choose whether to own them, and even whether to acknowledge them.  But I can’t choose whether or not I “have custody”.  In that sense, like the bed bugs, they are 100% mine.

I think this is why it’s so hard for me to respond to compliments.  When I was nine, I’d say “Yeah, I’m pretty awesome”.  Then someone taught me about humility, and I started saying “it was nothing, really…” which is kind of like saying “Nope, not awesome.  And you’re kind of a loser to think so…”.  Later I learned “Oh, it’s so kind of you to say that”, which is a just a politer version of “Nope, not awesome…”.

Why is it so hard for me to say “Thank you”, and then shut up?  I don’t think it’s because of secret low self esteem or deep childhood issues or even the fact that I have never in my life said two words and then stopped talking.  It’s because there’s something that feels dishonest in it.

The only way that I’ve ever heard to accept a compliment that I felt comfortable with was “It’s all God.  God works through me, and my part is just to let that happen.”

I like that a lot.  I like it because it doesn’t diminish the good thing–it allows for the gifts to be recognized and celebrated.  At the same time, it also doesn’t accept the idea that we deserve all the credit.  We don’t deserve credit for our talents–we didn’t create them.  Our part was to be grateful and to try to use them well to make good things.

The only tricky part for me about this statement is that I believe it to be literally false.  I don’t believe in any of the standard definitions of God, and I certainly don’t believe in a sentient guy working through me.  But there’s a kind of non-literal truth in there somewhere.

It applies to mistakes, too.  Joint ownership allows for apology without full credit or blame.

We do the best we can with what we have.  If I believed in the idea of sin, I would believe in original sin.  Not as a reason to feel dirty or broken, but as a recognition that you’re starting from flawed.  I know, how can you gaze upon a newborn baby and think of them as flawed?  My answer to this is, keep gazing.  It’ll come to you at about four in the morning.

We start from flawed, but that doesn’t let us off the hook.  I didn’t create the absentmindedness, but I have custody.  They’re not my bed bugs, either, but it’s my job to exterminate them to protect myself and others.  I take responsibility, without taking blame.

We’re born with good gifts and bad ones.  They are ours to be wise stewards of, but not ours to accept credit for.  Next time I need to add something after “Thank you” it will be “I’m so glad you enjoyed it.”  Next time I say “Sorry” because I feel sorry, and feel like it’s not enough, I’ll add “that must have been hard for you” or “next time, I’ll try to…”

Custody, but not ownership.

They’re not my bed bugs.

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