What a strange time of year, when were are all compelled, if not necessarily inspired, to give gift after gift to express the importance that others have in our lives. And being a child who never really participated in this annual tradition I am often surprised how stressful and compulsory this activity becomes. How frustrating and abused the practice of gift giving can be.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love to give gifts. I like to walk along and think: “wow, jane would love that” and just get it for them. I even enjoy the tradition of setting aside time in which everyone will exchange items that reflect their affections as a reminder of how important showing others attention really is. For this very reason I like holidays
And hell, I like to get gifts too. It’s fun and exciting to think of someone out in the world thinking about me in my absence and pondering what I might really need or want as they select my present. Plus, I like surprises.
But there is another side to the equation. For some a gift is an opportunity to prove their love, to make up for years of neglect with a bright shiny ring. For many it’s the continuing vault in which they display their affluence.
I mean: wow, you see people give DVD players to those they can’t be bothered to call all year. Big gift baskets to co-workers they can’t stand. Diamond brooches to the wife who they’ve been too distracted to kiss when they walked in the door. I once got a guitar from a friend who hadn’t to returned my calls in months.
And so, thinking about giving, and gifts, I begin to think about the ways we show our love and affection. The less palpable tokens we use to reflect that those around us matter and are a priority.
I think it is fine and good to give something of value to someone you value. But that can’t be the sum total of how you express your affections. I mean, don't get me wrong, I appreciated that guitar,and understand the meaning, but calling me back would have been an easier and cheaper way to show his affections.
So, I suspect the most meaningful gift you can give your friends, family and lovers is time and thought. And yeah, that’s sappy and obvious, and I even kind of mean it in that straightforward and base way. If I like you I’d probably always rather spend the time with you that you spent running to every store trying to find a gift for me...
But I understand it doesn’t work like that so I’ll clarify what I really mean.
Part of spending time and attention on the people you love is the way you spend it. Most of us don’t just have an open calendar in which to schedule all the ways we will spend time on those we love. So it becomes important to concentrate on the way we do things, on finding time to pay attention to what those we care about want and need. How often do you take a moment to ask someone what might make them feel appreciated in the hustle and bustle of the rest of the year? Noting how you treat those around you and whether your actions, when it is not a holiday that necessitates it, reflect your affections is key.
I mean, I’m not crazy and I understand life affords us all sorts of opportunities to feel so stressed and such anxiety that we can not pull ourselves out of the moment long enough to tell someone we love them, or are glad they are in our lives, or to remember to just take five minutes to listen more closely to your friend, or call grandma to say hi or kiss your wife goodbye.
I once saw a movie in which the girl just wanted a guy who said “bless you.” It was funny, but there was an important lesson behind it, I thought. Sometimes the smallest piece of attention or courtesy is enough to make someone feel important and valuable.
I think it’s our role as social beings to learn to regulate our anxiety, keep our frustrations in check and to prioritize those who matter: their time AND their feelings enough to pay attention to how our behavior affects them, and make a note of the little things that might make people feel special when we can’t provide out attentions with a bright shiny bow.