‘Tis the holiday season when many of us look forward to the upcoming festivities only to find ourselves tugged into the whirlwind of over-booked calendars, copious amounts of sugar, and the crazy rush of shopping malls. The following observation by writer and social critic James Baldwin might describe how many of us feel:
If the hope of giving
is to love the living
the giver risks madness
in the act of giving.
The Real Point of Gift-Giving
During the holidays many of us find ourselves drawn into the “madness” of gift-giving because it’s simply holiday custom. But beyond the mere ritual of gift-giving is the larger purpose, as Baldwin points out, to “love the living,” or to show appreciation.
Of course, this is how “madness” and anxiety ensue as we throw ourselves into the dizzying process of determining which gift best expresses the appreciation we’re hoping to convey.
Sadly, even as we decide which gift is the right one, we might still fail at fully accomplishing the real point in giving it.
In his article, “The Real Point of Gift-Giving,” Peter Bregman points out that the act of giving presents is based on a common misconception. The misconception being: “The bigger, more valuable the gift, the more it expresses our appreciation.”
But why isn’t this the case?
“Because gifts don’t express appreciation, people do. And when people don’t express it, neither do their gifts.”
Appreciation Is Rare in Corporate Culture
If the point of giving gifts is to show appreciation, then why don’t we simply express it directly?
One reason may be that this kind of appreciation is uncommon. Unfortunately, many of us fail to see people beyond the ways they do or don’t make our lives better. This is especially true in organizations where people are hired to fulfill certain roles and serve specific functions.
Tony Schwartz suggests that another reason we fail to show appreciation is because “we’re not fluent in the language of positive emotion at the work place”…to the point that their expression can seem awkward, contrived, or dripping with disingenuous sentimentality. Sadly, we’re more likely to be practiced at expressing negative emotions such as frustration, defensiveness, and blame.
And yet, as Schwartz observes, “Whatever else each of us derives from work, there may be nothing more precious than the feeling that we truly matter.” That we matter as people; that we matter simply for being.
A Note of Appreciation
This holiday season take a break from the hustle of the commercial mall. Instead spend a quiet night with a stack of thank you cards and write why you appreciate your co-workers. Here are a few suggestions Bregman offers about expressing appreciation:
Tell them why you appreciate them.
Not for what they do for you. Not for what they help you accomplish. Not even for what they accomplish themselves. Just for being who they are.
If you’re hesitant — maybe you think it’s too touchy-feely, too sappy — just think about what it would feel like to receive that type of note from the people around you.
Once you’ve written your notes of appreciation, all that’s left is to deliver them.
Appreciation can save us from holiday madness and, “if the hope of giving is to love the living,” might be gift enough for us all.