Playing Hard to Give
Joe Clark ~~ Dec 16, 2003

So, I finally found time the other night to head out to the store and do some of that Christmas shopping thing. It's about the time of year when everyone is thinking about giving and getting Christmas gifts. I've taken part in some interesting conversations on that topic of late, and have some thoughts on the whole issue.

First off, it is plain to see in many cases that buying gifts for others is difficult. What to get? What will they enjoy? What will they detest? What if they don't like my gift but will pretend to to save conflict or bad feelings? Giving gifts is a calculated risk, but we, being nice people I guess, give anyway. There is something within us that *wants* to give, I think. For all the dumbness and selfishness of people, we do have this (shadow of divine nature?) trait that most of us like to give gifts at least once in a while.

One interesting thing I've heard lately is that it's hard for men to buy gifts for women. One explanation for this is that guys (engineers particularly, since I associate mostly with them) are into technical or useful or efficient or "form follows function" gifts. So, ask me what I want, and I might say, "more CD-Rs" or "a new hard drive" or "a new USB pen drive." These are form follows function gifts. That's me being a guy, particularly a geeky guy. Other guys might say, "I want a new set of golf clubs" or "a new bowling ball" or "a new model train car" or "a new recliner" or "a new plasma screen TV" or "Bose speakers". These are not all purely functional items, but they are...very straightforward gifts, following in line with one's hobbies or interests. They do carry sentimental value, but it is not always evident (and indeed many if not most guys would probably not admit to the sentimental value at all).

Now, women on the other hand, at least according to a lot of guys, are impossible to shop for because they don't follow this same pattern. They might *appreciate* a new vacuum cleaner, but it's not really what they want. They might *need* a new frying pan, but it's not the highest thing on their list. More likely, they would like perfume or other cosmetics or jewelry or things like that (if you disagree, that's all right -- I'm just stating it based more on the observations of others, and I may not be restating it perfectly). Now, to the Guy Personality, such things as perfume and jewelry don't have a great deal of value. A woman may gawk and say, "ooooh a jewel, a sparkly bit of love, I melt before it", a guy might say, "nice rock". So, even if a guy knows what to get, he may not be comfortable making the purchase ("I could buy a laptop for the price of that bracelet!"). Interesting...

Another thing I've noticed (and it's rather obvious) is that it's hard to shop for people who have a fair supply of money and buy things for themselves on a regular basis. If you don't want to spend a ton on gifts, it can be hard to find something. The problem is that if the person really wants something, they've probably already bought it themselves. I discussed this at work today, and one comment we agreed on was that if you're giving a gift, you have to give a gift that they want, but they don't realize they want it until they receive it. Hard to do, but a fun challenge anyway.

As for me, I have never been real big on giving gifts. I am trying to change that as I grow older and wiser. But there are some logistics to giving gifts that I have to deal with. Here we get to the real insightful part, I think.

First off, I have to decide who to give gifts to. You may want to refer to other wise thoughts about the inherent unfairness of friendships. Here's an example. If I work in a group of 12 people, and we mostly equally like each other, and I choose to buy gifts for some and not for others, is that okay? Am I being exclusive? Am I saying that some are more important to me than others? Well, don't take it the wrong way, but in a way yes. I temper that by saying that it doesn't need to stay the way it is now, it just IS the way it is now. If I work mostly with 3 or 4 of the 12 people, obviously I'm going to like (or NOT like) them more and be more interested in them just because of proximity. But despite the explanations, it's still an issue I think about.

Second, an interesting little dilemma is related to who to give gifts to. Once I decide, "I'd like to get a gift for X", I immediately begin thinking about what their response will be. Okay, of course, when I start paragraphs like this, you can guess it has to do with the female half, mostly. If I get a gift for a guy, and they don't like it -- well, I am saddened, but not always in the same way. Don't ask me to explain, and don't think I mean it applies in every case, but in some it does. So, in thinking about the person's response, contrary to the discussions in previous paragraphs, I don't worry so much about the gift itself...either they'll like it or they won't, and forget about it soon enough. But I worry more about what the giving implies about me. Am I sending some kind of signals by showing enough interest to give gifts to people? Well, in a way I obviously am, because it shows I *notice* them (and the tricky part is that some people want to be noticed, and some don't). On the other hand, I obviously am not sending signals -- it's just a gift, duh, big deal. The truth is, the paradox is not just there in theory or on the receiving end, it is a paradox in my mind as well. Perhaps half the time I can discern whether I'm just being nice or if I am attempting to send a signal (hmmm...SIGALRM, that is a request for attention, but that can be handled and ignored? Or some other UNIX signal? Another discussion topic...) But the other half of the time, I don't know (or don't bother to determine) what my real motivation is. So I give gifts, sometimes implying things, sometimes not, but never really stating my case one way or another (cuz who can stand honesty anyway?) <-- sarcasm

And then, I laugh at myself about it. I don't think it's crazy to think about these things. I think that a lot of people do, whether they would admit it or not. I am just "crazy Joe" enough to write it down, in, um, red and gray, and it looks even more funny in writing. Funny, or...honest. What can I say? I think too much about stuff. That shouldn't be a surprise to most of you reading this. And the people that matter put up with me and my thinking. Thanks. :-)

Now, a few thoughts on the sentiments of giving. I claim to be a beautification engineer wannabe, and this gift-giving season is yet another way to express that BE concept. (Cool...BE is a fun acronym for beautification engineering, ie, the focus on BEing in the midst of the typical life of doing and being busy and all that junk.) So, gift giving is about sharing something from within. It is stating, in oh so very sappy terms, "You are special. You deserve a reward for being you. Here ya go." The reward, the gift, might be a gumball, or a new car. In many cases, in many respects, the actual dollar value of the gift, or the gift itself, is not the point. It is an affirmation of the person and imparting of sentiment to them. I know, that sounds like moldy swiss cheesy talk, and I guess it is. But there's something ethereal in it. I can go buy gifts at the Dollar Store and feel good about it. I don't care that it's a silly trinket gift. It really is the thought that counts, and the hope that the receiver might need it, or cherish it, or laugh at it -- all are valid responses. All are bonding, are community-building, are just plain Good Things.

Okay that's about it. I hope that you will take just a moment to try to grasp the concept that I have just barely laid brain cells on after writing these paragraphs. Be ethereal and cheesy for a moment with me, and think in the global, community, legacy, destiny, beyond, and might we even say eternal terms, and see if that lends any new view to the way that you do this whole Christmas and gift-giving thing.

And lest I forget to get you all a present this year, remember...you'll always have these wonderful wise thoughts as my gift from my heart to yours. :-) :-)

Merry Christmas shopping.