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I’m a strong believer in doing things purposefully. Gift-giving is one of those things! For me, gifts are always freely given. That means, if someone gives me a gift, it comes with no strings attached, no expectations, and no presumptions. Likewise, if I give a gift, I expect nothing in return. Most importantly, I give the gift because I want to.
That might seem like a strange thing to emphasize, but think on your daily life. How often do you feel obligated to give gifts? Probably more often than you would like.
The office is a prime culprit for unwanted gift giving and gift receiving. When I worked at my first post-university job, it was in a lab of 20-odd people. There was a constant stream of birthdays, engagements, babies, anniversaries.
For birthdays, everyone was expected to “donate” $20 a year to fund the purchase of cakes. I don’t even like cake! And usually, there was too much cake and we would leave a quarter of the cake or more out in the communal kitchen for anyone to eat. I never understood why we couldn’t at least pay less and have less cake left over…
For other occasions, people were expected to “give” $5 or $10 or even $20 towards the latest special occasion. Gift cards would be bought, toys for new babies, appliances for weddings. And of course, we’d pay for their next lunch!
Eventually, I realized that these were not gifts. If these were gifts, I would have gone out and purchased cake or presents for these people without being forced to! Instead, these were enforced, expected purchases that the working world had somehow embraced.
My family is not very close to certain relations. However, when I was younger, we would still exchange gifts. My parents would agonize over the costs of the latest gadgets and reluctantly buy my cousins a new digital camera or phone. My aunt and uncle would give me jackets or bags that looked suspiciously out of place on a 12 year old. And for the rest of the year, we would not speak to each other.
If not for the expectation that we would exchange presents, due primarily to the fact that we were family and lived within a 10 minute drive of each other, we never would have bothered. My mom didn’t like my aunt and thought my cousins were rude. In turn, my cousins regarded us as the poor relations that they suddenly and unfortunately had to put up with.
I think everyone was relieved when us kids grew too old for constant presents. But why wait that long at all? If you’re giving presents to people you don’t even like… why bother? It’s no longer a gift. It’s just a charade.
Anything else – envelopes passed around the office, the box of chocolates you keep in the closet “in case” people stop by with an unexpected Christmas gift, the oddly coloured sweaters you give to cousins you never see… These are not gifts. Let them go!
Even worse, for some people, receiving a gift brings about the expectation that they must give a gift in return. I say – if any one gives you a present, it should have been given freely, without expectation. If it wasn’t, it is not your concern. Accept graciously, and move on.
And when it is time to give a gift, do it graciously as well. When I left my first job as a cashier at a dollar store, I gave one of the girls a copy of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Why? Because she had a keen interest in the subject matter and because I would miss her! I never received anything in return, nor did I expect to.
So let’s take back the art of gift giving. Give because you want to, because it makes you happy! Receive presents graciously and without fear of expectation. Gifts are freely given.