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The gift that keeps on giving May 29, 2009

Posted by casualadventurer in Cultural Understanding, Philosophical Perversion.
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The gift that keeps on giving

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, what an interesting proverb…… My research on the World Wide Internet thingy tells me that it was probably first appeared in print in 1546 in John Heywood’s ”A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue” or in modern English A dialogue containing all the proverbs of the English tongue”. Of course this proverb relates to the practice of examining a horses teeth to determine the age and condition of the animal. Thus the saying means that you should not examine the value of something that is given as a gift.

I have been pondering quite a bit recently the way that gifts are given and received, along with how this is reflected in the behavior of people….. I find myself working in projects designed to improve the lifestyles of people and communities. The one thing that becomes immediately obvious is the simple fact that gifts of money or goods (no matter how necessary they might be) rarely transforms the lives of the recipients on an on-going basis.

Recently I have seen a series of events that highlight the possible consequences that accompany unearned wealth.

1: Disregard: The gift was a quite expensive piece of equipment. A perfectly suitable item (also new) could have been purchased for 1/3 of the price. Two years on the expensive equipment is now in poor repair and destined for expensive repair bills that the person will never afford. The cheaper item would probably have suffered the same outcome, but would be repairable at a fraction of the cost…… Now the original purchase was not necessarily wrong in the hands of a caring owner the more expensive item would have lasted much longer than the cheap item, have been more reliable as well as being nicer to use…… The problem here is that as a gift the item had no real value to the recipient….. Why spend money maintaining the thing that cost you nothing? (The sad thing is that the services would have been free under the long warranty of the expensive item)…….go figure.

2: Power: So what happens when one person in a family gains the power to distribute wealth. The kind of wealth that determines which kids get to go to school and  who has priority at health care. I’ve seen people who handle situations like this well, and manage what in the end are limited resources as well and fairly  as can be imagined. However I’ve also seen it become a source of power used to wield vengeance on past hurts . When used this way it ends up being a thing that causes more damage rather than something good.

3: Laziness: This is probably the saddest, because rather than the gift being used to some end that will enable the family to go from one new strength to another, it becomes a means to the recipient maintaining a current lifestyle at the benefit of discontinuing any effort to maintain it.

4: Greed: This is probably inevitable if the person has demonstrated any of the tendencies mention prior to this….. this is the state where someone who squanders everything given to them expects it to keep coming and then is genuinely aggrieved when the gravy train comes to a smashing halt……

So why would you want to give?

1: Opportunity: Giving someone the opportunity at a better life is excellent because you will probably only need to give it once. This opportunity could be education to gain a skill and thus income. It could be support of a business or work idea that will give the person a start. Of course if you make opportunity and the person doesn’t try, well you don’t have to do it again. If they try and succeed….. Well you don’t have to do it again….

2: Pleasure: This is when you give for your own entertainment and expect nothing in return. Sometimes it’s good to see the smile on someone’s face! The funny thing is though, how often this kind of gift is returned beyond your expectations. And people don’t need to be rich to be generous in return.

And I guess that raises the other issue: Receiving gifts, something I don’t always do well.

I recently spent time with some fantastic folks that showed me enormous affection and generosity even though they were quite poor. I will remember the time we spent laughing together fondly, for a moment I was alive with the simple pleasures of life.

My generosity to those people was overshadowed by the depth of the gifts they gave me. My gifts might help them for a while. Their gifts changed my perspective on the world….. and maybe my life. You can buy a village chicken for a few dollars, but good times with friends are priceless.

If this is my gift horse It is a thoroughbred

May I learn to be more honourable when receiving gifts as well as more wise when giving.