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The Selfish Act Of Giving by Laura Tucker
Traditional knowledge tells us the business of gift giving and receiving is built around the old adage, "It's better to give than to receive." As a society of giving people we want to make an acknowledgment to the people in our life of what the relationship means to us, but the act isn't nearly as selfless as it seems.
At first thought giving a gift seems like a selfless act, but once you follow all the thoughts involved, it isn't really selfless after all. There is something you are hoping to gain from it, so it can't be completely selfless. You're doing it so that you will feel good about yourself. Seeing that look on the recipient's face, the immediate knowledge that they've been waiting for this gift or are truly surprised by it, is what we're waiting for. This becomes a gift to ourselves.
When I shop for a gift for someone I try to to find something that let's them know how I connect to them, a symbol of our relationship. This is something they can look back on and say, "Laura really knows me and appreciates the fact that we have this in common." Conversely, it's great to be on the other end and realize your friend or family member cares about you so much that they took the time to find this unique item that you both enjoy. It's a personalized gift that you know was bought just for you.
Often it doesn't even have to be a material gift; an act can mean all the same things. A friend recently had told me no one understood what she wanted on her birthday. She was always cooking dinner for everyone else on their birthday and was hoping someone would finally do it for her. She told her family that's what she wanted most. Yet everyone totally misread what she was looking for and took her out to dinner. While she had a nice dinner and enjoyed their company, it wasn't what she was looking for.
My friend was looking for someone to say I'm listening to what you want. She was looking for someone to put as much into a gift for her as she does for them. I wanted her to know that I was listening and that there was someone out there that truly understood her. I showed up on her doorstep the day of her birthday with a pan of mostaccioli, garlic bread, salad, salad dressing and a bottle of wine. She had told me eating my mostaccioli one time earlier that I could make it for her any time.
The joy on my friend's face was what I was looking and hoping for. She was excited, not that she didn't have to cook dinner for herself, but that someone was willing to make that effort for her. She was also now secure with the knowledge that there was someone out there that understood what she wanted and that truly listened. She told me later that she had told everyone she knew that I had done that for her. She wanted others to know that we were able to connect in that way.
I try to do this for all the gifts I give on Christmas, but the process can sometimes be daunting. We get so busy at that time of the year, and depending on how many people are on a gift list, finding a personalized gift for each person can be time-consuming. Usually some end up being very personalized, some just something I hope the person will enjoy.
But there's always that one gift. There's always that one gift every year I just can't wait until it is opened. This is the one gift I have found that I know will show that I understand and listen. Seeing the look from the recipient of acknowledgment of our relationship and of what I put into finding that particular item is all I need to make the gift worth every penny and every moment that was put into it.
Sure, I enjoy when the same is done for me. I enjoy knowing that someone understands and listens to me as well, but I don't get the same sense of accomplishment when the situation is in reverse. I don't get to pat myself on the back for a job well done. I don't get the validation.
What it comes down to is I'm looking to please myself when I give a great gift. I'm looking to say I set out to do this and accomplished it. I set out to find the perfect gift to show someone I understand and care. It is not at all selfless. I did it for myself in the end run. It is better to give than to receive, and that is because when giving, we're still receiving.
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