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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.