When is “What you see is what you get” not what you think? When it’s something else.
(Originally published December 4, 2002)
Last week I got a call from someone on committee. They were in a bind. They needed someone to help with a project–could I volunteer for half an hour? I checked my calendar, saw an open spot and said yes.
I went in today for my assignment. I was greeted by the person in charge and put to work. Half an hour later, the task was done, and I asked the person in charge, “Is that it?”
She said, “Yes. Now, wasn’t that easy? That wasn’t such a big deal, was it?” with a kindly smile.
Being a grown-up, I managed to bite my tongue before the words “I think the words you’re looking for here are ‘thank you’!” popped out. I simply smiled and left.
At my next stop, I related my story to the woman behind the counter, bemoaning how ungrateful some people can be..
“Oh, that’s nothing,” she said.
Last year her fiance was at a local organization here in Keene, NH. He saw their Christmas tree project in the lobby, covered with dozens of tags. (This is their special Christmas project. Each tag has a child’s name, a child who was in one of their community outreach programs, with the child’s age and one wish for a gift.)
It was a week before Christmas, and no one had taken any of the tags.
Her fiance found the woman in charge of the program. He told her he wanted every tag on that tree. He was determined that no child’s wish went unfulfilled.
Together, they went shopping. He bought every single child not only their designated gift, but lots of extra presents as well.
He spent over $2,500.
They returned to the facility and stored all the presents to be distributed the next day. He told her he preferred to remain anonymous. And he had to hurry, because he still didn’t have a Christmas tree himself.
The woman said, “You said you don’t even have a tree for Christmas yet? Why don’t you take that tree home with you? It’s the least we can do to thank you!”
So the took the tree. As he walked out the door with it, the facility director walked in and saw him.
This week (one year later), the man saw this year’s tag-covered tree in the lobby. Again, he approached the front desk, where the facility director was standing. “I’d like to help out again with your Christmas program again this year,” he said.
The director looked at him. He only remembered seeing this guy walk out of the facility a year ago with the tree. He sneered, “I don’t think we’ll need your kind of help this year.”
What you see is not always what you get…..
I told the woman to have her fiance write a letter to the guy, cc’ing the board of directors, the woman in charge of the Christmas program, and the local United Way, which supports and funds this facility. Oh, and the local newspaper, too.
He should explain that last year, he had donated his time and $2,500 of his personal money to make sure no child in their care was left out at Christmas. This year, he had repeated his offer, and had been told his help was not needed this year. And he should say how delighted he was that the facility had been so successful in their efforts that they needed no other help from their membership or the community to ensure every child had a wonderful Christmas.
He won’t do it, of course. But what a lesson for all of us!
Sometimes what you see is NOT what you get.
Sometimes…there’s whole nother story being told.
Update: The generous gentleman preferred to suffer in silence, and vowed never to participate again. But eventually, he realized only the children were hurt by his decision. He continues to make Christmas wonderful for these kids.
P.S. This is a perfect example of BIBS, the Baby In the Back Seat phenomenon. Here’s where I read this concept by conflict resolution expert Anna Maravelas and here’s a recent retelling.) Please read them if you have a moment, it will change your life!