Give a Gift without Expecting Something in Return
In the work of French sociologist, Marcel Mauss, it’s stated that “Gifts are never free!”. That when someone gives another person a gift, they are always expecting something recipricol in return from that person. Now how much truth is in that really? Many of my friends and associates have argued with me when it comes to the notion of there being no such thing as a free gift. Some even have gone so far as to say that one should be wary of an unexpected gift giver appearing before you and giving you a gift. Especially one you didn’t ask for. Is there really such a thing as a free gift? I say there is.
When I was a young child, I remember getting separated from my mother in a crowded New York City subway station. I remember the fear that overcame me at not knowing where she was and me being all alone on that subway platform. When I started yelling out for my mom to see where she was, I also started to walk around looking for her. I found my way to where one of the token stations were and just kept on looking for my mom and yelling out her name, “Mom!” “Mama where are you!?!” As you can imagine, I started to cry being a little kid (I was probably 4 or 5 years old). A moment later I saw two police officers approaching me and asking if I was lost. I told them that “I can’t find my mama (still crying)” At that point one of them reassured me that it was going to be alright and not to be afraid anymore. The same officer stayed with me while the other officer went away probably looking for my mother. The officer that stayed with me started asking me questions about my name and the usual expected stuff and then he proceeded to offer me a piece of candy to help make me feel better.
Being a little kid, the candy did in fact help comfort me a little bit. A few seconds later, my mom ran up to me and picked me up giving me a big hug saying, “I found you!” The memory of that event never left me. Not just because it was a traumatic experience for a little kid such as me at the time, but also because I remember the officer offering me the piece of candy. I didn’t think “why is he offering me a piece of candy when I didn’t ask for one?” I just gladly accepted it. It did in fact helped to make me feel better. The officer didn’t expect anything back from me necessarily. But in fact he did, and that was to help me feel better.
An Interesting Conversation with a Psychology Graduate Student
When I was in college, I had an interesting conversation with one of my girlfriend’s friends. She was a psychology graduate student and asked me when I offered to help someone with a project, what I expected back from them. I was a little surprised at the straight forwardness of the question in addition to the question itself. I asked her, why do you think I want something in return? She proceeded to tell me that everyone does something in order to get something else in return. She didn’t agree with me in that I didn’t want anything in return for helping someone with a project they had. “Everyone always wants something in return or else they wouldn’t do it” she told me. I was a little surprised at her passion on the subject. It made me think for a moment on the subject at which point I told her what I wanted in return. “By helping the person with the project, I expect him to (hopefully) get a passing or better grade on it.” If he wants to help me on something else in the future in some way, shape or form, then that is up to them. I’m not expecting anything in return. My girlfriend’s friend didn’t agree and told me that didn’t make sense because that is simply how people are. A person never does anything for free. Even though this is not the first time I heard this, it is definitely not the last.
When you give someone a gift, such as a compliment, you’re in fact exposing yourself to that person or to the people around you. Similar to the college story above, when a person near you overhears you giving someone else a compliment or offering them help, they may believe that I’m just trying to get a date with the person, or trying to make a good impression, or worse “kissing up” to the person. Seth Godin talks about this in his blog post, “Gifts, misunderstood”.
“Have you ever done something for someone, not expecting anything in return from them or anyone else for it?”
I have! Many times in fact! It can be something as simple as giving a person a compliment on a piece of jewelry they are wearing or on a nicely manicured front yard. When I give a person a compliment, am I really expecting something back from them? Maybe yes, maybe no. For me sincerely making a person feel better is what I am expecting. If that person feels better due to me giving them a sincere compliment or me giving them a gift, then I feel better. It actually makes life more enjoyable for me and I’m sure the person receiving the gift.
“Can you truly imagine a life where people only gave others a gift (whether it be a physical object or a verbal compliment) in order to get something directly back?”
How did you feel the last time someone gave you a gift? How did you feel the last time someone gave you a compliment? How did you feel the last time you gave someone a gift? How about the time before that? How did you feel the last time you gave someone a sincere compliment?
What are your thoughts on the giving of a gift?