This morning, over breakfast, I spotted The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran, on my bookshelf.
It is not unusual for me to grab this book at random and read a page or two. It's that kind of book, one you can dip in and out of for a glass of inspiration.
At random the book opened at the chapter titled On Giving…
Since Christmas is just around the corner, this was most apt.
And it will be a special one this year.
This will be the first Christmas my daughter will understand the concept of Santa Claus, presents, and hopefully see snow.
Indeed, the adverts have already started, the toys are on sale, the brands are vying for our attention — the mind manipulation machine is in full throttle, trying to part us with our money with the assurance that it will put smiles on the faces of our loved ones.
Before you break into an “Oh not the materialism is controlling us again speech” sigh, let me say that this is not a ‘blame the media for human desire and spoiling Christmas' post, but rather a musing to remind myself, and hopefully you, of a few truths about giving.
There's hardly anything my daughter needs, bar a few practical things. She already has a ton of toys and books, many put away for now so that she doesn't become overwhelmed and simply discard them, as kids do.
That said, the fun is in the opening, so of course I'll be wrapping up some presents for her.
But the majority of these presents will come from charity shops.
Well, this influence comes from my upbringing….
Waste Not, Want Not
I remember wonderful Christmases as a child, with sacks full of presents from Santa.
But only as a teenager did I learn that my parents bought the majority of our presents from charity shops and school bazaars.
My mum and dad would pick up nearly new things during the year and put them away for Christmas. Had I known, I wouldn't have cared or understood: a toy was a toy, pre owned or not. I believed Santa had dropped them off anyway 🙂
My clothes were all hand me downs too, from my brother. And why not? Waste not want not, as the saying goes.
I think many parents would feel guilty buying their children second hand toys though, even if almost brand new. At least that's the vibe I pick up from some parents.
I think this is because the feeling of not being able to afford new toys, or simply the stigma of buying second hand (for those who can afford it) evokes a sense of failure or guilt in a parent.
This is most certainly a by-product of the media-cum-marketing machine that encourages us to work as hard as possible to have the best and give the best to our kids.
Come on…As if my two-and-a-half-year-old will know the difference between a $1 second hand figurine and a $20 new one. She'd probably discard both anyway and head for the kitchen utensil draw to grab a wooden spoon to beat her favourite bowl like a drum!
I buy a lot second hand – mostly books and toys – and have also picked up wonderful gifts for friends. I unashamedly tell them the gift is second hand, and they are usually wowed by the fact I found something of such good use and condition so inexpensively.
I do like a bargain.
New or nearly new, It's all in the mind!
I know economics and GDP/growth wants us to keep buying new, but can you imagine if we all participated in sharing and hand me downs? I'm pretty sure Mother Nature would thank us dearly.
Sure, when kids get a bit older they want specific new presents they've seen advertised, and often the same as their friends have already or have asked for. But in addition to a couple of new gifts, we can reduce our consumer footprint by buying things like books, dolls and toy cars second hand.
Need Vs. Want
So back to the point. There isn't much my daughter needs. Similarly, when my wife asks me what I want for my birthday or Christmas my reply usually ends up being; “There's nothing I really need”.
In truth, most of us need one or two things at Christmas: socks maybe, something for a new hobby, a book we'd like. But to most, just one or two presents is ill-fitting in the season of abundance and grandeur.
I mean, how many times have you heard someone say; “I feel so bad; I've only got him a few things”.
Indeed, in our materially driven society, the line between want and need has become blurred to the point where these words are used interchangeably. We fear not having enough, not having “things” to remain relevant and compete.
And what is fear of need but need itself? ~ The Prophet, Khalil Gibran
Constantly desiring the next best thing, needing more to feel a sense of accomplishment and contentment of wealth is a cycle of need: an unnecessary one that robs us of the chance to feel truly content with life.
Even when we have more than we need, the media-marketing machine encourages us to desire better. We end up chasing the “nice to haves”, and those newer things that will make our lives better, more complete, more prosperous. So they say.
The problem is that something better always comes along. The cycle is never-ending. “Things” perpetually tie our minds to the consideration of “things”.
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?
We are never thirsty but always in need of a drink. And in this respect we are suffering. And it is all of our own doing.
Undoing the Commodification of Giving
And we are equally suffering in giving. Indeed, we can feel guilty at not being able to buy something more expensive, more impressive, more renowned by brand or trend – even though the recipient is more often than not overjoyed by the thought.
Giving has been commodified, in that we are conditioned to give at specific times and to associate giving with material things, and often expensive things at that.
Ironic perhaps, since time and love are the two gifts we would all appreciate most from those who love us, which cost nothing.
It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding.
Giving is a wonderful act, but let's not lose sight of the fact that giving need not be a material act. Love and compassion are the greatest gifts, and do not cost money.
Would my daughter choose a new car to play with (alone) over me having more time to play with her and her old cars?
We all know the answer to this.
There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
In Summary of Giving
- Give what you can afford to give, not what you think is expected.
- Do not feel guilty about buying second hand gifts, feel proud to be contributing to a more considerate and sustainable society.
- If you have time / are short on money, make something by hand even. This makes your gift that much more special.
- If asked, ask for what you need, not what you think you want, and that which you desire solely because others have it.
- Remember that love, time and compassion are the best gifts you have to offer.
- Consider that Christmas and birthdays and are just dates on the calendar. Giving is a gift we are born with and is something we can all do on any day of the year.
For in truth it is life that gives unto life – while you, who seem yourself a giver, are but a witness.
You were born to be the gift that keeps on giving.
The quotes in this post are from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran (available here). I highly recommend it as a staple book on your shelf, or as a gift for a friend 🙂