Saturday, November 29, 2008

Is It Really Better To Give Than To Receive?

With the U.S. Thanksgiving behind us we're firmly entrenched into the Christmas season, the first in many years accompanied by a severe economic downturn. We've all been taught 'tis better to give than to receive', however I'm going to question that oft recited platitude.

In our society of hyper consumerism Christmas is the pinnacle, with an orgy of buying taking place. It can be stressing of course, trying to find that perfect gift...but what joy when the item we've purchased for someone is warmly accepted and genuinely appreciated. I've heard many people brag about how much money they're spending on Christmas presents, often running into the thousands of dollars. It fills the giver with such joy, casting themselves in the role of the benevolent bearer of gifts.

But now with the economy being such a concern, with many people facing the prospect of losing their jobs, if they haven't already become unemployed, is this really a good thing?

We live in a competitive world, of that there is little doubt. While few people will admit to 'keeping up with the Jones' it is something most do. Think of things like cable TV, cell phones, call answer and call display...none of these are close to being essentials, but they're things almost everyone has. Advertisers bombard us with it.

"You don't have a high-speed Internet connection"?!?!?

If our friends and family are bestowing others with lavish gifts, how can we show our faces if we don't do likewise? When someone gives you an expensive gift, doesn't it make you want to reciprocate?

Now some might suggest that they have family and/or friends who have fallen on hard times...and that they have a moral responsibility to 'spread some joy' during this holiday season. And I won't dispute that, however I will offer a suggestion. Rather than give a gift with a card or tag attached which tells them who it's it anonymously. I suspect some will rankle at this suggestion, that they forgo receiving credit for their generosity. If that is indeed the case I would suggest that their giving is in point of fact selfish...that they're giving not so much to help someone out, but rather to make themselves look and feel good.

There are numerous charity organizations which do tremendous good in our communities, especially during the holiday season. They take in gifts and donations, and pass them on to individuals and families in need. And because those receiving the help aren't aware of exactly who made the donations it eliminates feelings of inadequacy that come from accepting a helping hand. I suspect they'd be even more successful if recipients were made aware of whom the donors were...however that would be missing the point. The aim is to assist people in need, not to make those better off feel good because of their generosity.

Perhaps it is better to give than to receive, but only when it is true giving. Are we really giving if we expect accolades and admiration in exchange for our gifts?

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