Off The Wall - May 7, 2009

Last week, you may remember, I shared my 2008 survey why one gives gifts. In addition, I wrote of many people’s opinions of why they answered the multiple choice questionnaire the way they chose to do so, and then, as is usually the case, I threw in my two cents as well. Today, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite subjects – expectation, and relate how I believe it ties into gift giving.

I think it is indeed rare to find someone on this earth that doesn’t expect something from another. When you think about it, society has formed our thinking patterns into formulating our thought processes on conditions. Whatever we say, do or act will often trigger a response from another in ways we sometimes “expect,” and other times find a little shocking, if not down-right uncalled for and just plain rude.

Let’s just take the first option in my survey – “I want to get something in return.”

Defining the word, “something,” may be different to each individual. The recipient may want a hug, a gift, or just a thank you. Maybe the latter should be automatic when a hug or a present is exchanged.

But let’s say you’ve taken great joy into purchasing something for another, and even had a company mail it to the respective party as a surprise, with the words “Merry Christmas,” and have the sender disclose your name. But you never hear a peep from the recipient(s). What emotions should go through your mind? Should you erase those feelings of joy? Should you tell another, “That Felix really has nerve not thanking me for his Christmas present I bought for him and even paid for shipping to make sure he got it in time?” Should you let bitterness replace the “giving” spirit?

It happens all the time, doesn’t it? Our human nature dictates that we must conduct ourselves according to conditions.

“Of course you must say ‘Thanks!’” when someone goes to the trouble of buying or giving a gift to another. “That’s only common sense,” you may say. But not everyone thinks that way anymore. Now, you may find that appalling, but people are becoming more lax with the formalities of the past.

But, in thinking about it over the years, I have drawn my own conclusions which I think may surprise you.

Marty, wanting to show his appreciation to administrative members of his church, sends each of them some kind of Christmas gift. A matter of fact, making sure it gets there on time, he hand delivers the items to the church office. The gifts are received by the receptionist. Of the four employees, he gets a “thank you” from two.

Here is where it gets deep. Did any one of the four ask Marty to give them gifts? No. It was purely spontaneous on his part. It was a heart-felt act. Since they didn’t ask for the gifts, must they show their gratitude? Not at all. To give with the expectation of getting something in return, if it’s only a thank you, I believe, is having one’s heart in the wrong place. You may say, “That’s the right thing to do.” That is how society has raised us up to believe we should respond to such stimuli. Now, if you have taken the initiative to approach Marty and ask him, “May I have a gift?” and he reciprocates, then there’s no question, a “thank you” is definitely in order. But to get something you didn’t ask for puts things in a whole different light.

With that being said, should I promote the idea that one stray away from society’s norm and cling to my philosophy? Here again, not at all. What I’m trying to do is emphasize that with every coin there is a face value, and a flip size, acts that may occur that will always be contrary to expectation. This is very important. Never set yourself up to believe that your thoughts are going to equal someone else’s. Don’t position yourself as a conditional giver, and third, and whatever you do, never let go of that joy that exists within you when buying, wrapping and presenting your gift. Maintaining a happy heart will eventually render a happy soul.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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