TL;DR — Give when you take, do not take without giving.
Currently I am reading the book Wise and Otherwise: A Salute to Life by Sudha Murty. This book is full of stories based on author’s personal experience, and there is something to learn from every chapter.
One of my favorite story from this book is when she went to visit a school in the densely forested area of Karnataka India. It was a primary school, built by tribals themselves, with one room, two chairs and a blackboard with a pot of water besides it. The school has two teachers and fifty students. While visiting the school, she decided to bring some clothes and umbrellas for the children of the school.
“Please accept these things which I brought for the children here.”, she said while meeting the head master.
The headmaster hesitated, she thought he was embarrassed so she told him, “You have not asked for any gifts from me. I brought this myself. It will help children during the rain. Please get the clothes stitched according to their size.”
The headmaster walked into his hut without saying any word, meanwhile she started interacting with students. Asking them about what do they want to learn. With hesitation, some of the students told they have heard about computers, but they have seen it only on television. They said they wanted to to learn about computers and asked if she had any book which can teach them about computers.
She promised to bring books during her next visit. By that time the headmaster had returned from his hut carrying a bottle of red liquid in his hand.
He offered the bottle to her saying, “Amma, we do not know what you like or drink at home, but this is a special drink we prepare with the extract of red forest fruit. It is good for health. Add some of this juice to a cup of water and stir it before drinking.”
She was embarrassed, how can she accept gift from them, they looked poor and did not seem to have enough to eat or drink. Thus she politely declined the gift.
The headmaster said gravely, “Amma, then we can not accept your gift either. Our ancestors have lived in this forest for generations and they have taught us their ways. When you want to give us something, we accept; but only when we can give something to you too. Unless you take our gifts, we can not take things you have brought for us.”
She was shocked, embarrassed and humbled, nothing in her life experience has prepared her for this. Here an old tribal man, with no schooling, is following a highly principled philosophy of life – give when you take, do not take without giving. This was a culture at it’s best, she smiles and gracefully accepted the gift.
She closed the chapter with the concluding comment from headmaster that, “there is a grace in accepting also.”