This really was one of those life changing moments for me in college, and however little money a sociology major will make me, it did make me think. The paper, as mentioned, discussed the difference between gifts and exchanges, and our professor challenged us to discover an example of a true gift. Harder than you think, because when we give a gift, we're often still hoping for a thank you or at least the good feeling that we helped someone. According to Bauman, if you give something with the hopes of any sort of return, it is an exchange and not a gift. This isn't to say exchanges are bad or shouldn't be motivators for giving, but for me it was a sort of wake up call that I wasn't actually on the fast track to Mother Theresa.
It made me wonder if I've ever given a true gift in my life, at least according to Bauman. Every so often I'll try to do something anonymously and tell myself I'm not going to say anything about it to anyone. Sometimes I make it, but often times I'm still looking for my end of the deal- that someone will know I did something good and tell me I'm a good person. This goes for service too. So often, when someone is having hard time, I find myself thinking of how I want to help. I want to make them cookies, I want to hear the drawn out story, and I want them to thank me for being there for them. But then if I do that, who is it really about? Unless they are my kindred spirit and love eating their feelings while also discussing them, it's about me.
This lesson was ever more powerful when Nate had his brain surgery, and I was the one that needed help. I kept communication with others (minus a few poor listeners) fairly positive and optimistic. Why? Because I didn't want anyone to commiserate with me unless I felt like they were actually doing it to help me, and not just to feel like they "reached out to that girl in need." Call it selfish, or maybe sleep deprived and emotionally exhausted, but when you feel like enough things are being taken from you anyway, the last thing you want to do is give simply to satiate another person's curiosity. Even if it's just giving an answer to, "How are you?" Or I guess that's how it was for me.
It was a time that I really appreciated what the "true gifts" were for the time- help with absolutely no expectation of return. Help where no one would ask questions or want me to spend time with them, help where people would understand if I took the gift and didn't smile back. And, to speak of the goodness of many of our friends, that is exactly what we received. Loving texts and messages that didn't expect a reply, food dropped off without a need for thanks, and several significant acts of service without a moment's hesitation. My gratitude for them is deep.
For me, the experience is a reference point for situations when others need help. There was so much I just didn't need, and I have to remember that for others. Instead of calling them up right away, I will think, "Wait- am I calling because I am sad and I want to experience that emotion, or am I calling because I sincerely think this person wants a phone call right now?"
It's a tough question to ask yourself, and there's no one answer for every situation. And I'm not saying we shouldn't help people. I know for myself, sometimes I need people to keep asking how I'm doing, and sometimes I don't. It's basically crazy. But, I do think we'll never regret taking more time to think about what someone truly needs instead of just what we want to give them, or even what we want them to give us (details, time, etc.)
Coming back full circle to tangible gifts, and on a way lighter note, I got Nate the coolest Christmas present ever. It is mildly selfish because I loved buying it and I know he will think I'm the best wife ever. So, I guess it's for both of us. ;)