Is “I owe you!” your common response to someone who does a favor for you?

Do you ever find yourself thinking that someone should return a favor to you?

As one who was always helping others, my dear mother, a quintessential Southern lady, taught me an important lesson: the words that accompanied a favor mattered as much as the act itself.

Like countless others in our town, my mother was one who’d rush to the scene—usually with food—when she learned that someone could use her help. On one such occasion, she had me ride along to deliver a sweet potato pie to a friend in need of some TLC. This was before the invention of child-safety seats, so I plopped right next to the driver’s seat, where she had placed the pie. I now chuckle over how I sat on that thing all the way to the friend’s home without noticing. I'd squished the filling into a deep crater, and no one was happy the moment my mother realized what I’d done!

A few months ago, while in my hometown for a short visit, I ran into Janie, another beautiful, Southern lady, who shared a memory that would have made my mother smile.

Janie first had to remind me that for a short time she and her family had lived in the house across the street from my parents’ newly built home. (I was only three then, so my temporary forgetfulness wasn’t too alarming. Besides, my brain kicked in, giving me a fuzzy recollection of playing in the yard with her son, my age.) She then relayed how my busy mother (having a new home, young children, a retail store with my dad) had arrived on her doorstep with a pot of barley soup when Janie wasn’t feeling well. My mother loved making that soup, and her recipe was a hit with Janie. From then on, Janie relayed, she loved barley soup, and the flavors made her think of my mother.

Learning that she’d kept those precious thoughts of my mother with her all these years was a priceless gift. My mother, too, would have been so touched that Janie remembered her for such a simple act of kindness.

Be kind to others. I grew up with those words.

When she did someone a favor, my mother would often insist that the recipient not send her a thank-you note. Not only proper, a note would have been customary and generally expected in our culture. My mother sincerely didn’t want the new mom, new neighbor, recovering patient, etc. to go to the trouble, and she’d say, “Please, don’t.”

Notably, such sentiments came from a woman who brought up her daughters to write a thank-you in return for the slightest gesture, including the occasion on which someone’s thoughtfulness was “just” a card. To be clear, we were expected to return the consideration of kind words bestowed upon us by sending a gracious note!

My mother also taught us never to return an empty dish, but to give it back containing something for the giver to enjoy. However, to avoid burdening those for whom she’d baked, fried or stewed, my mother would tell them to keep the platter or bowl! (She and my dad sold platters and bowls in their store, so no big deal!)

Yes, you could say that she had a double standard for giving and receiving, but her attitude was not one of tit for tat: You did something for me, so I must now do something for you. Rather, her wholehearted intention was to show her appreciation.

One good turn deserves another!

In the midst of writing this, I learned that a longtime friend, also known for her generosity and hospitality, has an illness that now requires her to accept help. In our talking about the topic of giving and receiving, and the recent shift in her life, she brought up what a mutual friend once told her: giving others a chance to do for you is both a kindness and blessing to them.

Since words influence thoughts, and thoughts influence actions, here’s what my mother would say:
• When someone does a favor for you, instead of saying, “I owe you,” say, “Thank you.”
• Upon doing someone else a favor, say, “This is my pleasure.”
• When someone does a favor for you, instead of thinking what you must do in return, think of how you can be kind in general.
• Upon doing someone a favor, instead of telling yourself what a person owes you, consider the kind of person about whom you want to be known and remembered.

My best to you,

Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady

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