Answer: the gift of giving your time.
You’ll have to bear with me, as I take you through a personal journey of mine, which forms the basis as to my reasons why I think ‘giving someone your time and genuinely listening to them (developing empathy) is valuable to learn’
I grew up in a remote village as the only ethnic minority family. In school, I was self-effacing, polite, and gracious to everyone. I didn’t really fit into any group, I wasn’t one to follow the herd, but fellow classmates would like me. I was known by everyone as the geek, a straight A student. I wasn’t competitive in nature at all, I was merely enthused with learning and aspired to be the best that I could be. I was smart enough to know that there would always be someone that was wiser, and more (beautiful, funnier, confident) than me. I wasn’t lured by competition, to me it was a self-defeating purpose.
Instead, I took pleasure in girls asking me for help with their homework. I gave them my time in the library, one struggled with Maths. I admired her tenacity to improve. With time and patience I got her grade up from a C to an A. Seeing her happiness made me happy.
One day a new girl joined our class, she sat on her own, didn’t speak to anyone. A few weeks later, I ended up next to her, overtime we developed a friendship. I could sense she was kind, intelligent and timid. There was a day where we were in PE class. A girl decided to pick on her, throwing a ball with the intention of purposely hitting her, goading all the while with two other girls. But my friend just took it, she wasn’t confident enough to stand up to them, but something inside of me snapped. I said, “why don’t you pick on me too?” Then they called me a Paki. I wasn’t offended, because she was ignorant, only pointing out that I was different. “I’ll see you two after school, she said.”
When it was time to leave, I walked towards the gates. I knew they’d be there. My friend and I were skinny, in a fight, we’d lose against those butch girls, but strangely I was fearless. As we drew closer, I conceded our fate, but to my surprise, I could hear shouting behind me. The group of popular girls in my class that I’d helped with their studies ran beside me. “Abi, do you want us to beat the crap out of them?, one said.” Outnumbered, I could see the fear in the bullies eyes. “No, I said, I detest violence, leave them be.” There after, my friend and I had no trouble with them. I was touched that I had people that stood up for me, I didn’t expect anything in return for helping them, I was happy to give them my time.
As I got older, like most others, I perceived that I was a victim of time famine: ‘too much to do, not enough time.’ Work became all consuming, coupled with cleaning, food shopping, talking to family. Over the years, it decreased my willingness to give time to others.
Then life changed, my dad was dying. I confided in a work colleague that I was on my way to switch his life support machine off. My colleague said, “Abi, I hope you learn from this, that life is short, you really need to work on giving time to people. When I had my birthday, you never turned up, people are what matter, not work, or expensive s***, sooner or later we all face our own demise, but one can hope that our loved ones are there with us at the end, just like you will be for your dad.”
That was three years ago. Through deep self-introspection, I came to the realisation that I missed opportunities to spend more time with my dad. I always assumed he’d be there. I proceeded to work hard on myself. I take time to talk and listen to people, no matter whether I’ve had a long day. I once came home and it was 9 in the evening, I hadn’t eaten, and I couldn’t be bothered to go to the shop. The porter who’s a single mum, took some food out of her shopping bag, “here try this, she said.” I was touched, all because I took time to talk to her.
Then one day I get a random call out of the blue. A guy I dated a few years prior said that his driver always asks after me, I took time to get to know him. He was curious to know why I disappeared. “You broke my heart, he said.” I got fed up of never seeing much of him, and took it as disinterest. In reality, I could now see he was a slave to his work. “Abi, I could never figure you out, I would offer you gifts but you’d never take them, what more could I have done? What was it that you wanted from me?”
He still hadn’t figured this out yet. The most precious gift he could have given me was priceless. I said, “All I ever wanted was your time…”
Life Lesson: people always remember you when you value them enough to give them your time, but expect nothing in return.