As a child I used to love Chinese New Year. I looked forward to new pajamas and clothes, along with the Hong Baos (red envelops containing money) that I would receive from older relatives. Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days and it is a time for visiting relatives and friends who you may not have kept in touch with. Traditionally married couples will give Hong Baos to children or to younger single people. If you are still single at 30, you may receive Hong Bao but with many questions from relatives as to why you have not yet ‘tied the knot’. Hong Baos containing one dollar were considered very generous in my youth, where 20 cents was the normal gift In retrospect I do wonder why I was so happy to receive the Hong Baos. At the end of each day my siblings and I would have to hand our takings to our mother.
As she was on a strict budget from our father, she would recycle the contents of our Hong Baos in order to give to others! When it was my turn to give I would complain that it was too costly. I had many siblings friends and relatives with young children. I can vividly recall my mother’s response and haven’t complained since: “it is good when you can afford to give. Even if you cannot, it is good to try. Remember that when you give you need to do so from the heart, without motive or expectation of something in return,” she said. My mum’s values, especially with respect to giving, are deeply ingrained in me.
Because there isn’t a high mark-up on my products, I am disciplined in controlling my profit margin, only giving token discounts on my frames. Usually, I would rather lose the sale than offer large discounts.
Occasionally, there are customers who have overspent for the month and not prepared to buy a certain frame or painting that they genuinely like. Instead of issuing a hefty discount, I sometimes give the item as a gift. I know this will make them happy. Most are pleasantly surprised and accept my offer with appreciation. It makes their day and mine to see them so happy. However, I have had customers (who do not know me personally) who are so suspicious that they literally give the frame back and a blank stare, mumbling “No thank you” as they leave the gallery! Of course frames are not given away freely – I am running a business after all!. But at times I want a particular customer to have a gift. It could be for their past support or merely to see them happy. It is as simple as that.
Giving is not just about generosity, it has to be from the heart. It can be doing things for a friend or a stranger.
Giving is going out of your way to help somebody. It is not about passing on unwanted items. How many times do we really think of those that need our clothes and furniture when we donate to the Salvation Army? Usually we are simply trying to find ourselves some more space for new things. True giving is sacrificing things that you yourself would like to keep. And hurts when giving them away.
Over the years I have donated many pieces from my gallery to charity. I feel no pain in taking frames from my display wall for this purpose. I will often quietly think of deprived children in Cambodia or elderly people requiring medical help. I do not have many ‘slow moving items’ and will often create frames with the intent of giving them away. I do not simply give away the ‘crumbs’ – can you imagine the chiding from my mother! Sometimes my staff are taken aback at the items I choose to give away.
It is sacrificing things that you would like to keep for yourself, and hurts when giving them away.
“You are giving away things that would be so easy to sell”, they say. “And why do we only get a standard thank you letter after donating so generously?” I understand their confusion but smile and explain that the principle of giving is to expect nothing in return. Expecting appreciation is as good as giving with a motive. My sister, in Australia, has a girlfriend who is a single Mum of three. They live frugally and with difficulty. Whenever I visit my sister I buy the children presents, stock their fridge and find excuses to give Hong Baos.
Several years ago I took so many things with me from Singapore that I was charged excess baggage. Then on arrival I was fined for not declaring all the food stuff I had brought in for them! One of the children, Emma, 9 years old, received a beautiful make-up case filled to the brim, from my sister. I saw a nail colour I liked and asked Emma if I could have it. She said she was happy for me to use it but I couldn’t keep it. I was rather taken aback at the time and thought her ‘ungracious’ and ‘ungrateful.’ After all I had done for her and she wouldn’t even give me a nail polish! It actually even crossed my mind not to give her anything more. Then I checked myself and realised guiltily that I was forgetting the principle of giving… I should be giving without a motive: give and make a difference to somebody else.