Mastering the art of giving

A fortnight has passed since we returned from our holiday in Malaysia.

Coming back to London, it struck me just how quiet my home is compared to my parents’ and how different this city is to Kuala Lumpur — the people, the infrastructure, the mentality and the attitude to friends.

Flying across the pond always takes some adjustment, the change is not just in the time zone, weather and glorious food, but to leave behind the toasty security blanket that exists under your parents’ wings.

Here is where you have someone to cook for you every day, to pick you up when you need transport, to listen to you without judging and most importantly, someone to shower your blossoming active baby with endless love and attention.

This is what I miss most about my time in Malaysia. What made this trip even more memorable was the overwhelming hospitality of my friends.

I can tell you now — with the exception of a few kindred spirits in London — that in spite of meeting people from all over the world in my young life, no nationality has come close to understanding hospitality the way Malaysians do.

Perhaps I am a changed person, but receiving the gifts of material or kindness never used to move me so profoundly to the point of provoking a deep need in me to return the favour.

In my youth, I used to give generously. Receivers of the homemade cards that I spent hours making would fall in love with my work of craft, which made them feel special.

Aside from giving material things, I also gave my time to volunteer my services to children who visit a local Down Syndrome centre and Cancerlink.

In my twenties, I was so busy discovering the world that I became very self-centred, and frankly, a bit of a rascal.

In my early 30s, prior to motherhood, I was keen to nurture the relationships with loved ones who remained loyally by my side in spite of my frivolity. I strived towards giving more than receiving, but my effort was still lame to a certain extent.

It was not until I became a mother that my propensity to be selfless became expansive.

Why is this the case?

Perhaps it’s the shift of what’s important, from “me before you” to “you before me,” and the focus on others where the light was once just shone on me.

I was fortunate to be on the receiving end this time.

My friends and family gave me their time, invited me to their homes for lovely food, treated me to meals, shared a fragment of their thoughts about parenting and life, showered my baby with gifts, rescuing me from a breastfeeding emergency, and helped me locate a paediatrician during Chinese New Year when most of the country was at home celebrating.

Each time I receive, I become a student to the art of giving. I began to wonder why I seem to be receiving and not doing my part to give back in return.

This begins my frantic giving back to make sure my friends know that they are appreciated.

I learnt that giving is all about the person you’re giving to and not at all about you.

Don’t give something that you don’t need anymore (re-gift) and certainly don’t give something that you won’t like. That way, you’ll reap more joy from giving.

And most importantly, giving is not all about consuming and spending. In a country like Malaysia where shopping centres are part of the culture, it’s easy to forget this.

I believe that some of the most thoughtful gifts are the acts of kindness that are completely priceless, from making a handmade card and just spending time with a friend in need, to picking up the phone to call someone and letting them know that you’re thinking of them.

These are the kinds of gifts we should never fall short of giving and, if given sincerely, have the ability to turn someone’s day around.

Although there is a long way to go before I can claim to be a better woman, I am beginning to fully understand the universal truth about giving.

To become a giving person, you first need to overcome your attitude to selfishness.

In the words of Winston Churchill: “What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?

“How else can we put ourselves in harmonious relation with the great verities and consolations of the infinite and the eternal?”

These words were later condensed into a more digestible philosophy — “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”