Efrat asks: “My aunt came to visit us last week and brought a gift. I was very excited until I unwrapped the present and discovered a really ugly picture. My aunt said she saw this picture and immediately thought it would suit the empty wall in my children’s bedroom. I managed to keep a big fake smile on my face and gave her a kiss and a thank you.
I really don’t want to hang this picture, but my aunt comes to visit us often and I don’t want her to get offended when she realizes the picture isn’t there. What should I do?”
We’ve all been there; a family member comes for a visit bearing a gift. We have one look at it and realize it will never be going on display at our place. So what should we do with it? Re-gift? Throw away? Or perhaps just keep it hidden, so that it can be presented whenever that relative comes for a visit?
Besides that, what should we tell that relative? Should we let them know we’re not planning on using their gift? Perhaps we should lie and tell them it was a very well thought gesture on their part and we love it? Or maybe we should just say nothing?
‘That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow’
Reading the words of the famous Jewish leader and scholar Hillel brings up the question: How would you want others to treat you if they were in your shoes?
We don’t like people lying to us… well… perhaps at times we would rather that people don’t tell us the whole truth. A subtler version of the truth suits us just fine most of the time. For example, when we get a new haircut, we don’t really want the entire world to let us know we looked much better with our hair long.
People don’t have to say the new haircut is gorgeous, but they also don’t have to comment at-length about how much the new haircut makes us look fat and short. So perhaps, if we choose to tell our relative that her gift wasn’t spot-on, we should come up with a subtler version than the one playing in our head.
The snowball of deceit
My dad often says that only people with a good memory can tell lies. People with bad memory should stick to the truth. Just imagine you were thanked for your lovely gift and told it was hanged in the living room. Weeks later you visit their house again, and when they notice that you’re actively looking for the hung gift, they quickly come up with some excuse about them loving the picture so much that they’ve moved it into their son’s bedroom. They would of course love to show you how much nicer it looks on the wall over there, but the boy is fast asleep at this very moment. Their initial intentions were good, but now an argument can easily develop over something that would have been avoided if those involved hadn’t hidden the truth.
Stop for a minute and ask yourself; what is the worst thing that can happen if I tell them what I think about their gift. Also define to yourself what the best-case scenario is in this case. Finally, what is most probable to happen in such a case? Playing these scenarios in your head may help you feel more relaxed about telling the truth, or a subtler version of it. Your aunt may be sensitive to criticism, but most likely she won’t disown you or have a heart-breaking cry. She might ask what you didn’t like about it, she might offer to replace it with another gift and she might just tell you to do whatever you want with it.
If you’re still very worried about telling your aunt the truth, you can always use this opportunity to work on your creativity and come up with a brilliant solution.
For example, you could put a nice poster on the back of that picture, and don’t forget to turn the picture to its original side whenever she comes for a visit. Tell your aunt that the kids were fighting over who gets to hang the picture in their room, and you had to hide it somewhere safe so that they will stop fighting. Or you can say that someone has broken into your house and the only thing they took was that picture – but this puts you at risk for receiving another one when she next visits.
In short, it’s best not to leave things to chance. Thank your aunt for the present and let her know it’s not exactly your taste. I don’t recommend building a fake story to ensure your aunt won’t get offended. If she catches you lying, it could make the situation so much worse.