I know a woman who’s a traditionalist. She used to give her grandchildren gifts. If she didn’t get a written thank-you note, she gave less of a gift the next year. If she still didn’t get a thank-you note, she stopped giving. She tells me how she’s teaching the children the value of courtesy, gratitude, and manners. As I hear her story, it’s obvious that her grandchildren tell her “thank you,” but she doesn’t think that counts. She needs a “real” thank-you.
I think about when my children were little, and I was a divorced mother of three, working full-time. Later, I was a married mother of four, working full-time, going to law school full-time, and trying to keep my life on track. I tried to get the written thank you notes out to my children’s grandparents and failed miserably. Really? It was all I could do to get the laundry done on top of everything else. When we moved to our current home over ten years ago, I found, buried on my desk, a bunch of thank-you cards which the children had written, but I hadn’t been focused enough to address and mail. I was embarrassed, and hoped that the grandparents understood.
In some circles, gratitude is a big deal these days. People have gratitude journals and there’s a lot of talk out there about “having an attitude of gratitude.” I’m often reminded by others how important it is to be thankful for all I have. I’m all for it.
But when I think about the crotchety grandmother in my circle of friends, I see a barter. She’s a person who gives for a reason. She doesn’t do it for the joy of giving; she does it for the feeling of gratitude she gets from the recipient. Is that really giving? When we give to people we love, isn’t it usually for the joy of knowing how much they will cherish the gift? When we give to a charity, isn’t it for the feeling we get, knowing we helped? Isn’t this the fun of anonymous giving? It feels good to give, when there’s no thanks in return. We do it because we enjoy giving, not because of the gratitude we anticipate in return.
I knew a child who was distressed at Christmas, because she wanted a certain gift from someone and wondered how much she would have to give to them to get the gift she wanted in return. I wondered how she thought this magic gift-match-up was supposed to be known by the gift exchange recipient. As it turns out, it wasn’t understood, and they’ve both been bitter for years about the weird gift-giving energy between them.
These are often the people who leave the price tags on their gifts that don’t reflect the sale price paid, hoping to get full-priced gratitude at a bargain. Don’t we all know someone like that? These are usually people who give because they feel they must, under some set of social rules. Graduation, wedding, birthday, and Christmas gifts are all just a time-delayed gift exchange. Whether you’re giving a gift in order to receive written thanks or whether you are flat-out bartering gifts with another person, this isn’t giving. It’s an exchange.
In the blogging world, we’ve been passing around “award nominations.” They are polite ways of letting others know about who we are and showing others our favorite blogs. It’s done with good intentions, and it can be pretty constructive, encouraging newbies. I recently “nominated” some of the blogs that I think are pretty good. Some of those blog writers wrote back to thank me and explain the numerous reasons why they couldn’t participate. No problem; this is supposed to be fun. I’ve found some of my favorite blogs through their nominations by blogs I enjoy. I don’t mind if they don’t participate. If given the chance, I might still nominate them in the future. Why? Because they’re good blogs that I’d like to share with my friends. I don’t expect anything in return, and they shouldn’t feel guilty about not doing more. This is the way it is with gift-giving in general. I do it because I want to make someone happy or fulfill their want or need, not because it’s expected or because someone might think less of me if I don’t.