Arguments, feuds and quarrels often evolve from minor mistakes and simple misunderstandings. Within a short time they can take on a life of their own, spiraling out of control, and by the time one side wants to make peace, an all out war has been engaged. How does one who wants to resolve the quarrel begin to break the proverbial ice? How can you bring the opposing group to negotiate, compromise and eventually reconcile?
An effective game-changer in resolving disputes is to begin by giving a gift to the rival party. Everyone likes to receive gifts. To have an appreciated outcome it doesn’t have to be expensive (not that a mere pittance will suffice) but even less costly bestowments can help achieve the desired result.
How does this work?
The gift is not payment in lieu of the ill will and strife that has been generated by the ongoing dispute. One is not trying to pay off the other party for accrued agonizing emotional pain. Nor is it explained by the cliché “it is the thought that counts”, this truism, that the spirit of generosity behind the purchase goes further than the value of the offering, does not fully explain the mechanics underlying this wondrous technique.
The laws of human nature dictate that one who receives a gift is beholden to the giver. This spirit is a potent undercurrent which accompanies the bestowal, forging it into an intoxicating apparatus. With the acknowledgement of the largesse, a debt of gratitude is created that cannot be divorced from the gift. The one who has accepted the gift has unwittingly subjugated his self to the donor.
It is for this reason Mishlei commends the one who refuses to receive gifts: “he who hates gifts will live” (15:27). The message of this statement is deep, the person who despises aid will be “independent” he will truly exist.
This is why conferring a present has the potential to begin the healing process. The recipient is subconsciously grateful for the gift and by default more receptive to the giver. The donee will now be prepared to listen to what the donor has to say. This state of receptiveness does not only open the channels of communication but it may further assist in reconciliation and ultimately in complete reunion.
The effectiveness and potency of bribes is similarly explained. The bribe can be of minimal value yet despite its meagerness it has potential to sway the decision of the most wise. Even when the judge is conscious of the corrupt backhander and attempts to ignore the enticement and honestly search for the truth, his or her unbiased position has been compromised. Once they are in receipt of the bribe they can no longer be objective since they are beholden to the briber.
David Lieberman in his book Make Peace With Anyone (p 104) provides an emergency primer for a peace seeker who expects to be met with intense resistance. He advises sending a gift, “The gift creates an unconscious obligation where the other person feels the ‘the least they can do’ is to listen to what you have to say”.
Esav mistakenly believed that Yaakov had usurped his deserving blessings from their father Yitzchok. These were blessings that promised untold wealth, success and prosperity in this world. Esav planned to avenge his grievance by slaying his brother. Yaakov, in preparing to meet his warring brother readied himself for three things: gift, prayer and battle. Under the circumstances, prayer and battle are readily understandable, but how was he going to assuage the temper of this sworn enemy with a gift? How will a few hundred animals function as recompense for stealing the incalculable?
This was not an attempt at reparations, there was no way that Yaakov could placate his brother by paying him the value of Esav’s loss. Yaakov, via the gift, was attempting to achieve a different goal, he was striving to dominate Esav and bring him under his control in much the same way as a bribe operates. The gift would create feelings of acknowledgement and gratitude in Esav towards this gracious patron, and the feelings of subjugation which would accompany his receipt would override any thought of killing his benefactor.