‘Do you wish to repay a favor? Receive it graciously.’
Seneca, De Beneficiis
There is usually more than meets the eye in the wonderful realm of benefaction– doing favors or good deeds for others. In any benefaction freely given there is the possibility of a unique meeting of hearts.
What a great gift it is that we are able to do good for others! But let us turn our attention to the side of the receiver. Is the recipient able to do anything noteworthy?
Seneca indicates that the first thing the recipient can do is to receive the gift graciously. Perhaps to receive graciously just means to receive the gift, period. In other words, if the gift is not received graciously then isn’t the gift really just being taken, not received?
If someone holds the door for me, and I simply walk through unreflectively, it seems I have simply taken what was offered. I didn’t receive it, inasmuch as I did not meet the gracious offering with a gracious response. Graciousness implies freedom and love, and it can go both ways.
A gracious benefaction can be offered without a gracious reception; but then we feel that something is amiss and incomplete. There has not been what could have been, one of the most amazing of realities: the meeting of two hearts in a conscious, gracious giving and receiving.
Then what might I do today? If I have eyes to see, I might realize I am the recipient of gracious giving all around me. Sure, not all benefactions are graciously offered. But Thomas Aquinas aptly suggests: “It is the mark of a happy disposition to see good rather than evil. Wherefore if someone has conferred a favor, not as he ought to have conferred it, the recipient should not for that reason withhold his thanks.” Indeed, if I don’t give the benefit of the doubt, I might miss much of what is really happening.
So when I receive a gift graciously—whether it be big or little—I can further a precious connection that was initiated by the giver, whoever it was.
Seneca (died 65 AD), was a Roman Stoic philosopher and dramatist.
Image: George Claussen (1852-1944), English. Head of a Young Girl.
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