Tag Archives: generosity


Ending The Gift Quid Pro Quo.

By: Chris Warren

One major holiday is done and we’re less than a month out from Christmas, a time when gift giving, for most of us, is a true expression of love and gratitude. For many others, they give stuff, they get stuff. In the end it’s a zero-sum game. To the extent that I can, I’m going to end the gift giving circle of absurdity.

Years ago my parents put their foot down and insisted that they wanted no gifts for birthdays, Christmas, or Mothers’/Fathers’ Day while at the same time retaining their “right” to give stuff to us kids. I know it’s a double standard, but they are the parents so we respectfully deferred to their wishes. At first I thought they were just being difficult. My parents worked hard and retired well. Having reached a place in their lives where they are comfortable, there isn’t very much anyone can give them that would make a big difference. Now I understand the psychology behind their demand: Not accepting gifts is my parents’ statement of content. Giving them more will not make them more happy.

Oddly, they do not seem to mind and are genuinely pleased if I give them a modestly-priced random gift for no particular reason. If I’m walking through a store and in a moment of serendipity spot something I know either of them would like, I’ll get it for them. My dad loves Guinness beer but never buys it for himself. So every now and them I’ll bring him a twelve pack, and he accepts it without any fuss as long as the gift is not tied to any special occasion. I don’t get it, but whatever.

If I spend $100 on someone, and they spend $100 on me, then what’s the point? Where are we going with this? How about if we both just spend the same $100 on ourselves call it good? All of the people in my life who I care enough about to buy gifts for already do little favors and help me throughout the year. I’m very blessed and I know it. There is no need to give me something on a special day once a year.

Although there are none in my circle that I’m aware of, the worst offenders are those who will try to predict what someone will spend on them, then go out and find a similarly-priced gift to give in return. They see gift giving as a social obligation and not a true expression of the season.

In my experience, the people who have the least usually give the most. To understand this concept, it’s important to point out that money does not mean the same thing to everyone. An unemployed guy who spends $10 on a gift is not looking at that cash the same way a very rich man who spends the same amount would.

A few years back, my nephew gave me a jacket for Christmas. It was a very nice jacket that I really liked and it probably cost him about $40-$50. Fifty bucks or so is not a lavish amount of money to most of us, but to a young college age kid putting himself through school on a ten dollar an hour job, it’s a significant cash outlay. I was beyond flattered and could see the glow in his face when he gave it to me. I deeply thanked him and gave him a big hug, then urged him to return it and use the money for school. He was adamant that I keep it, so I complied. Every time I put that jacket on, I smile and think of him. My nephew’s selfless spirit of giving was his real gift to me.

I refuse to participate in any gift quid pro quo. I’m going to borrow a page from my parents’ book of wisdom and push back against receiving gifts but still give them as the mood moves me. I don’t have everything I want in this world, but I’m a happy guy and am satisfied with giving gifts with no expectation that I’m owed something in return. This time around, for me, the greatest gift is not wanting any.

Fact Checking Kindness.

By: Chris Warren.

The internet enables the average person to access more data from their smartphone than could be stored in an entire large university research library twenty years ago. Lost in the excitement of holding all civilized wisdom in one’s hand is the reality that the internet also provides a platform for dishonesty that, when mixed with just enough actual facts and spread around far enough, will sound completely plausible.

This week’s Twenty First Summer article started out as a thoughtful introspection about Glen Buratti, a six year old autistic boy who was cruelly snubbed on his birthday by his entire kindergarten class. During the process of reading up on the story and planning my article, I noticed a familiar plot shaping up: A victimized child, a mother openly wishing she could make it right, and an internet full of complete strangers coming to the rescue. Spoiler alert: It has a happy ending.

But that’s not where I’m going with this. The familiar plot was a tipoff: These stories occasionally go the wrong way. Everyone has heard of someone running to the media or the internet with a heart-tugging tale. The tale goes viral, attracting huge levels of support and attention and money, only for it to turn out later that they lied about the whole thing. I’ve grown cynical in my internet old age. Even a cute little kid doesn’t get an automatic free pass out of me. I always turn to my old friend google to cross-check everything lest I too become just another sucker who got duped into propagating an endless chain of electronic fiction.

As hard as I tried, I could not bust the Glenn Buratti story. There were some odd aspects to it that didn’t quite line up, but no big gotcha! There wasn’t even a little gotcha! Part of me felt relieved this wasn’t a scam. It is one of those feel-good stories affirming my faith that humanity doesn’t totally suck after all. I wanted it to be true. Another part of me felt like a cad for questioning Glenn’s mother’s motives in the first place. Maybe I should have no reason to feel bad because being suspicious is part of modern life, or at least it should be.

pinocchio-how-to-make-yourself-into-a-human-lie-detectorSo that’s where I’m at: Validate everything, especially if I’m going to use it as the topic of a blog article. That old fashioned sense of giving everyone the benefit of a doubt doesn’t work the way it did in days past. I’m not naive enough to think dishonesty is new concept, nor will I be guilt-tripped because I checked my facts before I put my byline on something for the whole world to see. The internet has made it easy to confirm truth, it’s also made it easy to bury a lie. President Ronald Reagan’s maxim, “trust but verify” no longer applies only to nuclear disarmament agreements.

Beyond the obvious moral lesson that kindness always trumps the mean spirited, the Glenn Buratti story  also teaches that it’s not a wise policy to accept someone at their word. There are so many scams and flim-flams out there; it poisons the well for any honest person in need who wants to be taken seriously. At the other end of the transaction are generous people who want to help but are holding back on the possibility they are being played. I still believe in compassion, empathy, and humanity toward others. Since I hold all of mankind’s knowledge in the palm of my hand, I’m going to to make sure there is enough truth to warrant my good will before I invest any heart and soul into someone else’s tears.