How to be a graceful receiver

How many times have you been out to dinner/coffee/whatever with someone and tussled over the bill? Sometimes a perfectly nice get together can be spoiled at the end by two people insisting upon bestowing their generosity upon their friend, and neither stopping for a moment to gracefully accept the gift. Such a bummer. And notice I’m talking about simply being graceful rather than grateful. Being graceful is an outward expression; being grateful is an internal posture (though can often be gracefully expressed).

It happened again to me today. Went out for lunch with relatives for one person’s birthday, and the birthday person insisted on at least paying for some of the lunches. I told them, there are 364 other days during the year where you’re welcome to buy me lunch; please let me give you this gift. To no avail. Sometimes you just have to shrug and let the steamroller do it’s thing.

It got me thinking about when I’m on the receiving end of that kind of proposition. I like giving gifts as much as the next person, but sometimes it is good to be a receiver. It’s not as natural, though. Givers are in control, receivers not so much. I think resistance to a gift is probably the receiver’s attempt at wresting back a little bit of control from the giver. Anyway, I’ve got some rules that I try real hard to follow:

1. If someone insists on treating me, and I’m not expecting it, I’ll politely decline. If they insist, I’ll ask whether they’re sure (the answer is always yes by this time), then I will thank them and accept.
2. If it’s a larger ticket item, like lunch or dinner, I’ll accept with the caveat that they allow me to get the tip. This almost always works, and we both leave feeling good.
3. If the deal is scheduled in advance, ie, someone says, “I’d like to take you out for coffee” then there’s no demurring and only an honest “thank you.”

Not to beat a dead horse here, but I really do think there’s a difference between being grateful and graceful. We can be graceful through practice, without a grateful heart it’s a hollow discipline. Learning to be grateful makes it easier to be graceful.

Neckties are for heathens

I don’t wear neckties. Haven’t for years. The last time I wore a tie was probably 8 years ago. One of my previous bosses died, and I had a ton of respect for her, so I suited up and went to the funeral. Haven’t worn one since.

Fortunately I work in an office where nobody really blinks if I come to work in a hoody. Even for me, though, a hoody is a bit lowbrow for work. And I’m careful to look at least marginally reputable if I’ve got visitors scheduled. But no neckties.

Heres’t the deal. I loved neckties back in the day. A nice tie made me feel like I was going to work, man. Reputable and responsible, and all grown up. A man to be reckoned with, even if I did drive a VW bus. Jiminy, I was such a tool. Anyway, neckties. After a while I started having a hard time spending $50 on new ties (I know…). And close on the heels of that revelation came comfort. I could not believe that the IT guys didn’t have to wear a tie to work! Even the marketing guys were squeaking by without ties, on Friday at least. So I took a bite of that forbidden fruit and I liked it. It had everything to do with comfort and nothing to do with theology. Who said anything about theology, you ask? Hold onto your hat, we’re getting there…

There is a whole Quaker theology about “plain dress.” I think it’s weird, and I’m a Quaker. What I find most odd is that there are some people who are so serious about this that it becomes their “idol.” Which kinda seems to defeat the purpose. My guess is that those folks are in the minority, though, which is why they stand out. Anyway, I think there’s something worthwhile about dressing plainly as a statement of faith and solidarity with those who are unable to dress any other way. Scott Holmes wrote a great essay about his own experience as a lawyer and Quaker and refusing to wear a tie in court. He makes many good points, but I resonate most deeply with his comments about the ways a necktie can become a class barrier between people. Guys with ties can easily be perceived as being in a different (read: better) class of people than those without.

For me, what started out as a comfort rebellion many years ago, has since aged into a pretty clear sense that by wearing a necktie I’m erecting a barrier between myself and others. Christ calls us to live among people, not apart from them, and it’s my sense that for me alone, neckties as daily work apparel get in the way of my ability to serve those to whom I’m called. There is a balance, though. People expect me to have some degree of expertise in my field and, like it or not, what I wear can help ease anxiety. If I look and act like a “professional,” I’ll have an easier time working with those who seek my assistance. If I look like I just got back from the skatepark it’ll be more difficult to quickly gain trust.

Image credit: Touzeen Hussain

When to tweak the system

Nice short, pointed post over at A. King in Society about being being productive and tweaking productivity systems. I sometimes get sucked into the trap of tweaking systems and it’s definitely a game of diminishing returns. And, after all this time of trying stuff out, being on the GTD bandwagon, and falling off, and getting back on, I still can’t really put my finger on when it’s really necessary to tweak the system.

For my own part, I’ve been very happy for quite a long time with Taskpaper on my Mac and iPhone. It’s simple, fast, and synchronized. I saw that Notational Velocity allows a basic strikeout using an @done tag, and I checked it out to see if it could do strikeouts with something like @done(2011-03-30) which it can’t. I could’ve spent more time hacking up a workaround just to get my task list into NV, but I didn’t. That’s where I’m different today than I was even just a couple of years ago.

I don’t really have any groundbreaking information that hasn’t been shared by others. I guess I’ll just leave you (myself, really) with the encouragement to be mindful about the work at hand. Keep an eye on the 80/20 and aim for the 80% to be actually getting stuff done, and not just moving deck chairs on the Titanic. That is all.