Misinterpreting generosity

Written by
Peter Dunn

Who wants to get uncomfortable? Me too!

On Monday I had a chance to have lunch with a friend. While I was waiting for him to arrive, I noticed a group of ladies lunching at the table next to me. I, too, am dismayed by my use of 'lunch' as a verb. Just as I looked over towards the table, the 3rd member of their lunch party had arrived. She was carrying two small gift bags. She handed them to the ladies, and the ladies tore into them like 8 year olds on Christmas morning. They were candles. First off, as a guy, if you ever buy me a candle, I will promptly throw it at you and call you a derogatory name. But this isn't about gender. This is about the comment that followed the exchange of gifts.

"Margaret, you're always so generous!" said one of the ladies.


Margaret may be thoughtful, but that doesn't make her generous. Upper-middle class ladies giving each other gifts during a $50 lunch doesn't make them generous. Generous is when you are giving something to someone that needs something. Giving modest, or even extravagant, gifts to your friends is often misconstrued as generous. I know that it seems like I'm splitting hairs here, but I'm not.

When gifts exchanged amongst family members and friends are misconstrued for generosity, something REALLY bad happens. People who really need others' generosity, miss out. And it's especially bad if the giver deems their give to be generous. I believe that most people innately want to help others. This "want" is satisfied when you feel that you have helped others. When you do something generous, or what you perceive to be generous, then this desire is satisfied. An extravagant gift to your friend for her baby shower isn't generous. It's thoughtful. The diamond earrings that you give to your wife, girlfriend, and/or mistress isn't generous. It's thoughtful. Yet, if we perceive these gifts to be generous, then everyone loses.

This is a HUGE problem around the holidays. Several American families are about to exercise their generosity...in the wrong way. The exchange of gifts amongst the fortunate steals the satisfying act that comes with truly being generous. This makes me very sad.

Yes, I realize that people are allowed to give gifts to each other. Yes, I realize that there is nothing wrong with that. But when you have sifted through the thousands of household budgets that I have, and when you have seen that "gifts" account for a major amount of spending, while "charity" does not, you would feel as jaded as I do. We MUST listen to our instincts. Our instincts are telling us that generosity is very important. But something different is telling us to share that generosity amongst your friends, who happen to be in the exact same socio-economic situation as you.

Gift away. Give. Give. Give. Just realize that you aren't helping ANYONE by giving your loved one a gift. Harsh? Absolutely. But, I'm in the same boat as you. If I give my daughter a motorized child's size Barbie Cadillac Escalade (which there is no way in hell I would ever do), then I'm not being generous.

When you truly are generous, you will feel the difference. You will want to repeat the process over and over and over.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know.

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