What’s Your Relationship with Gifts?

I’m just going start this post off by professing my love for T. You make my world a livelier place and you bring animation to already colorful days. You are a gift and I love you.

Speaking of gifts…

During a recent two-hour long catch up wherein we discussed myriad topics, the subject of gift-giving and receiving came up. We talked about our desire for gifts, compulsion to reject them and undulation emotions that either situation presented us with.  

 Your 40s are a wonderful time for self-reflection, personal rediscovery and – if you’re lucky – self-determination. I’ve come to think of my 40s as a second toddler phase, something my friend alluded to during our conversation.

“Nowadays, I’m asking myself, ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?’,” she said. “Where do I want to live? All those questions.”

She had just relocated out west a few years ago for a big promotion and was already planning her next moves for self-improvement and self-actualization. She could’ve been content with where she was and all that she’s achieved (the beautiful home, brilliant children and Black Bourgeois dream), but if God has more out there for you, why not go get it? This all falls under the umbrella of accepting who you are and what your suppressed desires might be…even if those desires are something as innocuous as an unexpected bouquet of flowers on a random Tuesday.

During the conversation, we discovered that our motivations for not wanting (or for feeling guilty for wanting) gifts came from a place in our individual upbringings. One of us grew up in a home where gifting yourself – or treating yourself to kindness or something nice – was the ultimate sign of selfishness. You were ‘showing off’ and not thinking of others. For the other, the lesson was that every gift came with a cost or a consequence. There was no such thing as a “gift” in this woman’s life…only “rewards”, which is something you earned and could be taken away at the giver’s discretion. Furthermore, there was a constant reminder of when the gift was given and why that woman now owed something for taking it. Though the root causes for our rebuffing of gifts were completely different, the results were the same: We’d both trained ourselves not to want gifts, and more importantly, trained those in our closest relationships not to get them for us.

“But the truth of the matter is, Malaka, I like to get gifts. And I like to give them too,” said T. “I just had to come to the point where I was honest about that, and instead of holding a grudge against my husband for not doing something that I’ve spent years drilling him not to do, I had to learn open myself up to that.”

I agreed. I love to give gifts as well. I love making things for people, cooking for them, shopping for unusual items that will liven their world…but I’m comfortable receiving them. Even though I’ve been working to change my attitude, I still look on every gift given with an element of suspicion.   

Naturally, I was curious about what other people and cultures have to say about gift giving. A quick search yielded a wealth of wisdom in the form of proverbs. Here are some of my favorites:

One does not give a gift without a motive ~ Malian Proverb
Gifts make their way through stone walls. – Unknown
He who gives a monkey as a present doesn’t keep hold of its tail. ~ Ivorian Proverb
A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer. ~ Marcus Annaeus Seneca
He who was presented with an ox must give in return a horse. ~ Chinese Proverb

What I noticed in that list is that a noticeable number of cultures are as cynical about gift giving as I am, and others are far more generous. There’s a lot to be said of that in a separate post that requires far more research than I have time for. (If you have a link interrogating the connection between gift giving and culture, please link it here!)

What is your relationship with gifts, Dear Reader? Do you accept them with all readiness; are you a closed fist, or a reluctant receiver?