Dr. Rachell N. Anderson
As important days draw nigh, many of us feel entitled to get cards, gifts and yes, checks from friends and family. It makes us feel loved and even when we have limited funds, we endeavor to reciprocate. We have learned from a culture that promotes such ideas. We have learned that giving gifts is the best way to show how much we love; and that the bigger and better the gift, the more love there is. We believe for real, true love, the gift has to be both expensive and the very thing one really wants
s. That suggests the person has to, for quite a while, pay careful attention, listen and take note of what is important. Many important days could be ruined for the lack of the right present.
Many people experience some combination of joy, rage, and frustration in seeking and receiving perfect gifts to and from others. Where did the practice of giving come from and what are the issues for continuing the practice?
From the Three Wise Men to Jolly Old Santa Claus, gifting traditions contain many conflicting and sometimes negative views of giving. There are no easy answer. Some people withhold presents demanding good behavior (Naughty or Nice) Others demand a relationship or the right frame of mind. The Dalai Lama notes that one's own happiness is dependent on the happiness of others and “that happiness does not come from material things but rather from a deep, genuine concern for others happiness.” Romans believed that their giving would bring them good fortune in the coming year. Continuing in the Christian tradition, Dr. Martin Luther King noted how giving service benefits us all; that personal greatness and service to others are intertwined. "Everybody can be great, because everyone can serve."
Motivations for giving are complex. Some of us give because it makes us feel good about ourselves to see others happy. Some give because we care about the welfare of others and the community. Still others give as a religious mandate; or because of social pressure or because we think of ourselves as generous and want others to think of us that way. While giving can feel good, it can also create discomfort if we’re always on the giving end or if the gifts we’re given are the kinds that we can’t match.
Long standing research supports the benefits for giving to the giver. As a social act, giving ties us together for our mutual benefit. The willingness to give, or serve, or help, brings with it a certain compensation and psychological harmony. But are there effects of receiving? What about the sentiment expressed in a famous Bible verse: “It is more blessed to give than to receive”?.
A study profiled in The Economist found that people don’t really like people who are too generous. In fact, they dislike it much as they dislike selfishness. It suggests too much giving makes the receiver look or feel bad. Some receivers see themselves as indebted as if there may somehow be implicit or explicit strings attached and no matter how much it’s disclaimed, the person who receives may feel indebted or inferior. Also, the giver may feel superior and the receiver’s dignity is assaulted. Worse, is when the giving produces a sense of superiority or pity, thereby reinforcing social inequalities. It must be concluded that gifts that lead people to feel poorer for having received the gift is no real gift.
Giving—and receiving—needs to be done properly if it is to uphold human dignity. Moses Maimonides, the medieval Jewish philosopher, proclaimed “the highest form of charitable giving is performed anonymously.” Many believe giving anonymously is a great way to give if you don’t want to create any sense of obligation for the recipient. Others have suggested that the relationship must be the holder of the giving.
Just as there are ethical ways to give gifts, there are proper way to receive them. The most important part of receiving a gift is reciprocating. This doesn’t mean you need to return gift-for-gift nor does it need to be given to the gift giver. It is giving to those you care about and to those who need your care. Also, give what you are able, when you are able and to the extent that you are able to give.
It’s a generous thing when people face crowds to buy presents to show family and friends their love. However, this giving in our culture has become so commercial it may be hard to remember the reason the season.
What’s a Person To Do?
With some ideas from Sue Diamond Potts, M.A., I present this list to serve as food for thought.
1. Remember that little things mean a lot. Give your time as well as tangible gifts.
2. Get family members to exchange names and agree to homemade gifts with a spending limit.
3. Give books and read to kids or give co-operative games for children and spend time playing with each other.
4. Volunteer at a school. If you can sew, paint, carve, build or bake, you can teach it to the kids. Teachers will love you for it.
5. Visit a nursing home or a homebound elder or invite someone you know who has no family to your home for a festive meal.
6. Give coupons for your time. Offer your babysitting services for a couple who have small children so they can go out and enjoy time together.
(C) Dr. Rachell N. Anderson, November 27, 2017