everyone loves to receive a gift. but the truth is, it is often the giver, rather than the recipient, who reaps the biggest psychological gains from a gift. you see, gift-giving reinforces our feelings for those we love, affords us the opportunity to think about them and think about things they like – doing this makes you feel effective and caring. there are many reasons we give gifts: gift-giving symbolizes affection, appreciation, joy, love and thoughtfulness. for some, when they see something nice, they immediately think “he/she will like this,” or “this will look good on him/her.” at this moment, such a person is not thinking of what they might get in return, just the fact that the gift will be perfect for their loved one. some give gifts to win back a scorned lover – “if i buy him/her this, he/she might forget/forgive what i did.” often i see men buy cars for their loved ones when they have been improprietous. the woman, naturally, is happy and forgets the impropriety. three months later, the man stops using his own car, preferring to use the gift, six months later, the gift becomes his. a lot of batswana women reading this are nodding their heads. some give gifts to indicate the end of romance – by superstition, one sure way to tell a lover it’s over is to gift her/him one of the following: clock, dagger, handkerchief, letter opener, penknife, scissors, swiss army knife, anything sharp, umbrella, watch. in tswana culture, when you give a gift of shoes, you are literally telling your loved one he/she can take a walk. except of course, you’re english where customs dictate “if you do not give a new pair of shoes to a poor person at least once in your lifetime, you will go barefoot in the next world”. yet, others give gifts in anticipation of what they want. “if i give him/her this, he/she might just get me that (insert gift) that i want.” then they give it to him/her and wait. forgetting the reason gifts are given in the first place.
imagine this: there’s a wedding coming up. woman, a new-age, no paper around, writer, buys her man a set of cufflinks with diamond studs. there have been intermittent load-shedding of late, so man comes home and hands the woman as gift, a ream of paper. “a ream of paper for these cufflinks. does this (insert insult) know i wanted a (insert gift)?” after twelve days of eating burnt food, man goes out to return the ream of paper and returns with a diamond-studded necklace – tit for tat you see. just what the woman thinks she wants for that upcoming wedding. “awww darling, you shouldn’t have … thank you so much … it’s lovely. you always know to give me what i want.” now they can travel to the rural area for the wedding – now that she has something to show off, something to turn people’s necks. three days later they are back home. there has been load-shedding for two days so all phones, tabs and laptops have run of battery and an idea suddenly hits the woman and she needs desperately to write it down. she searches frantically – no paper to write on. man is poking around in the garden out of boredom than the welfare of the flowers. woman walks up to him “i need paper.” the man stares blearily at the necklace on her neck. “we have none. remember you made me return the ream of paper i got you.”
the moral: i recall mary oliver saying, “someone i loved once gave me a box full of darkness. it took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” whatever you do this christmas, listen to alexander o’neal’s my gift to you. and remember this, the usefulness of the best gifts isn’t known at the moment they are given – it takes a lifetime.