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Free Ice Cream
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A great-aunt taught me the free ice cream rule. When someone offers you free ice cream, there are only two acceptable responses:  “Yes, please,” “No, but thank-you for offering,” or some variation of those two responses. Do not criticize the flavor offered, complain about the amount or that you want it on a cone, not in a bowl. It is free ice cream—an unexpected treat that you get free. Complaining that it fails to fully meet your desires is churlish. If it had not been offered in the first place you would have nothing. Getting part of what you wanted—free—is better than getting nothing.

Nor should you upbraid the giver for daring to offer ice cream if you did not want any, or lecture them on the unhealthiness of eating ice cream. If the ice cream was offered in a spirit of generosity then returning rudeness for courtesy is mean-spirited.

Polite acceptance or polite refusal is the only proper response to a generous offer. It goes beyond good manners, she explained. Grudging acceptance or brusque refusal makes givers less likely to offer something next time. Why offer gifts to those who throw them in your face?

As I grew older, I grew to appreciate this rule’s wisdom. I taught it to my children, because it was valuable. It applied to more than just free ice cream. It applied to anything offered freely, without precondition.

Someone leaves a plate of cookies in the break room at work to share with co-workers. That is free ice cream. A friend cannot go to a ball game or concert and offers you the tickets that would otherwise go unused—free. That is free ice cream.

Accept Graciously

A neighbor—knowing you cannot—offers to mow your lawn, free. That is free ice cream. If you are unhappy with the result, you still say thank you. Hire someone to do the job the way you want it done next time, but accept the free ice cream in its intended spirit.

Ungracious responses hurt those responding more than they hurt the giver. I worked for a company that gave away turkeys at Thanksgiving—free ice cream. Some workers complained.They were vegetarian. Next Thanksgiving the company gave gift certificates for food. People complained that the value was too small or that they redeemable only at a store they disliked. Next Thanksgiving the program ended.

Even God gives away free ice cream—and tires of improper responses to His offers. In the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14) a king’s offer of free ice cream—in the form of a wedding feast—is spurned in several ways. Some mistreated the messengers carrying it. One man comes to the feast inappropriately dressed. The king rejected these people, denying them what was freely offered because of their behavior.

My co-workers lost a turkey. The guests invited to the wedding feast lost far more.

The next time you are offered something, recall the free ice cream rule.

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By Mark N. Lardas. Copyright © 2009 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.


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