The Gift.

Like many of you, I am in the midst of mild panic at the prospect of tackling the shops this weekend in preparation for Christmas.

In the Western world, many of the relationships we nurture are based on dropping in for a cuppa, buying a round in the pub every now and then, sending Christmas cards once a year and increasingly e-mailing and texting. In each case there is an unwritten understanding that the act will be reciprocated in one form or another and when there is no reciprocation, the friendship soon suffers. So in essence, gifts are never truly altruistic. I wonder how many Christmas cards you (and indeed I) will send to those whom year after year fail to reciprocate the gesture. Are you like me and sometimes wait until you receive cards from individuals before you partake in the exchange?

Is presenting someone with a gift a true altruistic act? Do we ever give gifts without the ulterior motive of seeking something in return? Marcel Mauss (1872 – 1950) did not believe in the existence of altruism through gift exchange. He believed in the three obligations to the giving of gifts:

(1) the duty to give;

(2) the duty to receive and

(3) the duty to repay. (Hendry 1999).

A few years ago we all agreed as a family to buy presents through Send A Cow ( Although we happily bought one another latrines and livestock for Christmas that year, something seemed out of balance.  It reminds me of Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye, the philosophical village milkman in the film reflects: “…because of our traditions we have kept our balance for many, many years… because of our traditions every one of us knows who he is…traditions, traditions. Without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as … a fiddler on the roof…”

The act of giving may be a selfish act in disguise but what is important is the act itself. Maybe in the quest for finding the meaning for certain displays, we lose the essence and the spirit behind the actual act, we lose our balance in the process. No one wants to be a fiddler on the roof!

Humans are selfish by nature – there is simply no getting away from it. Everyone knows that, but at least the sparkly wrapping paper hides it so beautifully…


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