Have you ever been given a gift by someone/any one and felt an obligation to hang onto it for the sake of not offending the person that gave it to you?
I love stuff! Its no secret that I am completely obsessed with “things” in fact my entire career is based on it. But when it comes time to giving or receiving a gift the pressure mounts and before too long I begin to feed into an underbelly of social etiquette and unwritten laws of relationships.
Sometime ago my close friends and I decided after weeks (sometimes months) of searching for the perfect gifts for each other. That we would no longer give “gifts” instead we would take that money that we were going to spend and treat ourselves to a meal or social occasion together.
The pressure of gift giving and receiving lifted a massive social weight off our shoulders. It wasn’t until then that I became aware of the significant social behaviors that are attached to such a seemingly thoughtful gesture.
Namingly based on obligation. I dispise obligation! If you’ve ever done something that you hate and keep doing it but don’t know why. I’d bet its got a lot to do with obligation. In gift giving terms it becomes a snowball problem. A Self-perpetuating system that is preserved by 3 essential (and human) habits:
1 The obligation to give
2 The obligation to receive
3 The obligation to repay
Could this be what our ecconomy is running off? Fumes of obligation fueled with expectation? Look at your own relationships, at THAT friend or family member that announces to the world about their birthday in a way that they expect the world to make a fuss. The obligation it places on YOU to live up to those expectations. YUCK! This is not the motives for selfless giving.
Is this how relationships are preserved? Is gift giving the glue that binds us together as a society? Its expected that special occasions warrant such obligations such as anniversaries and Christmas, but these ritualized occasions open up a new side to this give giving like future maintenance of both the gift and the relationship and by you accepting or giving it establishes a relationship of material transactions.
I too am guilty of buying a little something just because, for no reason, I saw it and thought you would like it. When someone does this for me I am often surprised and grateful so what’s the harm in that? The pressure is placed on the receiver. You’ve spent your time and money and effort to acquire the item for them, now the pressure is for them to be grateful and genuinely like it enough to cherish or display it proudly. After all; to give something is to give a part of ones self. (Mauss, 1954) The level of material comfort is a major anxiety inducing factor for the giver when challenged with buying something for someone who has everything. So where do we go from here?
Pick up the phone and invite that person out for breakfast, to a show or to meet up as a group for drinks at their favorite place. If your relationship is worth anything you’ll be more than happy that they’ve made the effort to spend time with you enjoying your company as opposed to handing over a material object that you are now responsible for for the rest of your life!
So how do cope this Christmas? Birthday? anniversary? Its worth noting that no amount of money can bring as much joy than a gift that is hand made. Gifts that are passed on with love are well received and appreciated. Whether they are on used, stored in a cupboard or even re-gifted, be assured that those items will be cherished. I will be doing another post on how to find THE perfect gift next week.