When We Value Things Differently

In my last blog entry I wrote about the art of giving space and the example I gave was more about physical space. Since then I have had a think about a different type of giving space – giving others the space to value things differently. I think it helps me to choose positive perspectives, which in turn aids in managing my mood. 

I have seen a few instances of this need to give each other “perspective space” during my time back with my family. I am currently in Singapore taking a 2.5-month break from Brisbane where I am in the midst of getting a PhD. An incident from last week stands out. 

I was clearing out the study room and there was an old dusty guitar case in the corner with a guitar in it. I was getting ready to dispose of it because I have another guitar and case in Brisbane. My dad saw this and asked if that was the guitar he bought for me many years ago. He then fished out a receipt from 1999 that showed exactly how much he had paid for the guitar and case. Attached to the receipt was an ATM withdrawal slip that reflected how much he withdrew to pay for the guitar and how much left in his bank. It dawned on me that the gift had cost him more than a quarter of all he had at the time. 

Now I understood why he was so reluctant for me to throw the guitar case and guitar away. My reasoning had been that our house is not big and we have a LOT of stuff lying around. I valued being able to de-clutter our environment, in fact, I thought I was doing everyone a favour. But for him, the guitar case represented a sacrifice that he hoped I would not take so lightly. 

As it turned the guitar actually belonged to my sister, but it was just sitting in my case. The guitar he gave me had been loaned to a friend because my friends had given me a new guitar when I left for Australia in 2010. 

Regardless, it got me thinking: was my dad being calculative by digging up that old receipt? Did he want me to pay him back before I could get rid of it? 

I was able to answer this definitively because of a conversation that I had with my parents a few months back about how much they had paid for my PhD (I was not able to land a scholarship). Back then, my sister had told me that my parents have spent a quarter of a million Malaysian ringgit on my education (Their life savings are in Malaysian currency but they moved to Singapore after my sisters and I relocated there). 

The large figure really shocked me – I knew it was a lot of money, but I didn’t realise it was that much (devaluation had a big part to play, unfortunately). Since then it has been a struggle not to feel stressed because my PhD is taking longer than expected due to recruitment problems. The longer I take, the more I am drawing down their life savings. 

At the time, the six-digit revelation was unwelcome but it prompted an honest discussion with my parents about their expectations of how I should pay them back. My parents firmly said I did not have to worry about that. 

So when the guitar incident happened, I was able to have the perspective that my dad was NOT being calculative. It was just that the guitar’s sentimental value was tied to the sacrifice he made to his pocket. In the end, the guitar and case went to my dad’s church where it was greeted with enthusiasm by the youth department. 

On that old receipt, I had written “Thank you Dad for this gift of music. I love you”. I am able to play the guitar today because of that first guitar he bought me. But now, looking back, I realise my dad gave me so much more than music. I want to dedicate this post to him and say “Thank you Dad for the gift of your love. It makes my soul sing.”

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