At the start of a recent class, my teacher told the class (of 12 students) that before they started someone had a special announcement. Another student took out a gift bag and gave me a new coat that the whole class had bought for me.
She gave a little speech about how some are less fortunate than others and those in a better position want to be a blessing. Several students and my teacher were filming it on their phones.
After turning crimson with embarrassment, I said “thank you” and then burst into tears. I think they thought I was crying because I was so touched, but actually I was humiliated. I had never been so ashamed in my life.
They were all so happy and excited. I just wanted to get out of the classroom, but I stayed until the end of the session, then I made a quick exit. I heard that several classmates posted the video on social media.
How should I respond to this? How can I thank them when I’m not at all grateful for embarrassing myself? And should I wear this coat to class now? They, of course, will notice if I don’t. It’s a nice coat, but I’m embarrassed.
We have to assume they meant to say, but that’s what Miss Manners would call selfish charity.
The hardening of society, where creditworthy people are shameless about asking for money – in the form of gifts or outright fundraising – has made them insensitive to feelings of self-respect and pride. They can’t imagine that anyone wouldn’t be happy to get something for free.
So you have to explain. It is, in fact, a class, so teaching a lesson is justified.
They will expect a torrent of gratitude, so you need to start by acknowledging their good intentions. Then ask them to remove the video, as that embarrasses you.
Then you need to counter the assumptions that you are modest and explain how you really feel. Miss Manners suggests something like this:
“I believe in charity and I recognize your charitable motivation. Thank you for worrying about me, but I am not a charitable cause. I am not as well off or as well dressed as you, but I have my pride. Hope you can understand why I cannot accept this.
Then you could add, “I will donate this coat to a homeless shelter, and I will do so anonymously, so as not to inconvenience anyone.” Or, if you want to keep the mantle: “I will put some money aside until I am able to pay your kindness by donating the amount to those who are really in need.”