My aunt, a school teacher, once narrated how she had clearly notified her students that they are not supposed to bring any gifts for her, during or after school hours, as she would never accept them. This included flowers, chocolates, snack items, picture drawings, hairclips, etc. She obviously had strong reasons to support this. She did not want to be ‘buyable’. She somehow sensed the ulterior motives behind the ‘flowers’ and the ‘gifts’ and felt the best way was to refuse accepting them. She shared this belief with us about 25 years ago. What she shared then had carved a learning within me and ever since I often found myself greatly discomforted when someone approached me with a gift as I had not yet mastered the art of gracefully refusing gifts. The thought always niggled me to first investigate the intent and then decide to accept or reject a gift. But these are moments when the show of modesty masks the intents. At least I will not deny that. But my understanding about the ‘heart’ and art of gifting changed when I actually received a selfless gift from an almost unknown person.
This person gifted me at a time when we did not have any dealing – emotional nor business. I was quite taken aback when she handed me a newspaper wrapped item and said, “This is for you. I saw this white laced scarf staring at me, every moment reminding me of you, when I went shopping last week.” I thanked her profusely and gladly took it asking her the cost of it. She mentioned the freeware she received that day and so asked me to consider it as her gift. I was very grateful to her that day as I had been hunting for a white laced scarf for some time. I urgently needed it for one of my soon approaching drama event. This person had overheard me speak about my desperate search for this scarf over a couple of weeks at my neighbouring library. We were merely ‘hello’ friends then and nothing more. But for her to pause (when she saw a similar scarf), consider my need then and proactively purchase it purely to meet the need of someone with no expectation of anything in return for it, was to me a pure gesture of ‘sacrifice and love’. Till this date I have never gifted her but do greatly cherish our friendship that blossomed from a ‘hello’ to a ‘wassup’ buddy. It is clean and so very special too. No qualms till this date.
More than the receiver, the giver of the gift comes under the scanner. My aunt actually explained it better. Today, more than receiving a gift, I think twice before giving a gift. Am often driven down a checklist to understand my intent behind gifting:
• Do I want the receiver to remember me and reciprocate in some manner, some time?
• Do I want to simply flaunt my status and capability?
• Do I expect the receiver to recognize me and call out loud my ‘big heart’ in gifting?
• Do I want to exhibit my humility voluntarily as if to show the person ‘Oh! How much I care for you, you are on my mind and the blahs’?
• Do I expect anything else in return, may not be in cash or another return gift, which is usually in kind?
• Do I want the receiver to accept me, my mind set?
If the answer to the above questions is ‘yes’ then there is more of ‘ME’ in that gift than the receiver or the receiver’s need. Am not sure if that could be called a ‘gift’ then. Maybe it could be termed as ‘selfish gifting’. It could merely be to buy a person’s attention or draw people towards self. Like my aunt summarised it as making the receiver ‘buyable’. In most cases, every gift almost comes in with a ‘return request’, unsaid of course. Why does it have to be so?
A gift unless free from such intents can become a snare for both – the giver as well as the receiver. I wonder if the essence of gifting would then tilt towards ‘bribing’, which is a deprecating word although with the same meaning as ‘selfish gifting’.