Sunday, November 23, 2014

True Gift Giving

Whenever I think of gifts, I am reminded of a paper I read for one of my theory classes a few years ago at BYU. It was in Stan Knapp's class, and we were reading a paper by Zygmunt Bauman (how he scored that name, I'd like to know) about gifts versus exchanges.

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. ;) 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mormon 101: So... horse and buggy, is that you?

So first off, my job is stressful and laid back at the same time. In our little neighborhood of desks, we all have a million people to answer to and email and organize, and we're never short of a crazy situation. But, somehow we always find ways to chat. We chat about all sorts of things, but fairly regularly, these chats turn to what I like to call Mormon 101.

I'm not sure if it's because I like to talk about it or people like to ask, but I talk about being Mormon like it's my job. (But it's not- my job is to email people, as mentioned above) I don't talk about it in the "I'm Mormon and you should too" way. I feel like I do more dispelling or confirming rumors, and then I try to smile and nod when coworkers tell drinking stories and I don't have the slightest idea of what they're talking about. The combination makes me feel a little like a zoo animal- both experiencing and observing a different world than those around you, even though you're technically in the same place. Or maybe I'm just an oddball and being Mormon has nothing to do with it.

There are some funny things said though. The quote in the title came yesterday from a friend at work. He wanted his daily dose of Mormon 101, and came up to my desk, and in all sincerity, asked if I used a horse and buggy. It was my pleasure to inform him that in fact, I used cars, buses, and airplanes for transportation.This is the same person that asked if a Mormon's future held any promise if they didn't go to BYU. I answered that we were shunned and had no chance of work. After a few moments of silence, I also let him know that we could apply to any other college and still succeed in life and in the church.

I should be more careful with my half-truths, but sometimes it is too difficult to resist. My friend saw some missionaries at the store on Monday, and he asked me why they were all there together, wondering if it held some significance. Before explaining that missionaries have a fairly regimented schedule and Monday is their day to prepare for the rest of the week, I indulged. I told him that it was a mandate for all Mormons to go to the store on Monday afternoons, and I was sacrificing by still being at work. Ah, the look on his face. Hey, if people already think you're crazy, you might as well roll with it. 

To be sure, most of my Mormon 101 conversations are more sincere than the aforementioned (I often tell the truth about my church as well ;) ) and they are not one sided. I've learned a lot about others' faiths and just lifestyles, and it's been great. We talk about the good and the bad, and everybody learns. I can just feel my mind expanding and becoming less ethnocentric. :) That's another topic for another day, but I will say moving to Washington has given me a healthy dose of "Caitlan doesn't know everything" and it's been good :)