We have all gone through two equally annoying experiences.
The first, having our gifts inspected and evaluated by someone with the hope of somehow assessing their value. We become aware of this through almost invisible—I said almost not entirely—social cues which allow us to assert with little chance of error that our gift was being valued and even compared with other gifts.
The second one is receiving a gift that we had not asked for, but could to a certain extent expect given the context of the situation (a birthday party, a graduation, etc). Upon receiving and opening the gift we realize it’s a decoration or clothing article which seems almost purposefully meant to clash with our own taste. What we witness is one both cases the same queer event: the unnatural, yet recurrent exchange of items between strangers in our contemporary society. The strangeness of such events has motivated economist to add to the confusion by labelling as suboptimal allocation of resources—we would be better off by getting the money rather than the gift.
You may probably be asking yourself: Is this guy disparaging against giving gifts? Not in the very least! My intention is the entire opposite. If anything I would encourage you to give perhaps even more, than you do now, but to do so without half the dissatisfaction or obligation that most of our current gifts carry along with them.
Have you ever wondered why the nature of gift giving is so badly explained by the word ‘exchange’? The reason is that an exchange implies that we can always compare what is being exchanged and that the goal is to reach an outcome of mutual benefit. Suppose I go to a store like the H&M to buy a t-shirt—there is an exchange between my money for the t-shirt. The mutual expectations and benefits are clear. I do not expect to get some extra shoes as well, nor is the cashier going to ask me to work a couple of hours in addition to the money I just handed him.
We have become so accustomed to understanding exchange in purely economic terms that too many times we transform authentic occasions for gift giving with an economic transfer of sorts: from the buy one take two offers, to the office gift exchange where everyone is always asked to contribute a fixed amount of money. In a word, every time we feel dissatisfied with a gift and we ask ourselves things like ‘I wonder how much she spent on that?’ or, ‘is that all he cares about me?’, we have fallen prey of the confusion between gifts and exchanges. This is not to say that exchanges are bad and gifts are good, but rather that we are missing out on the unique opportunities that come along with gifts.
The nature of gift giving is to encourage bonding and to nurture new or existing relationships. Gift giving, when authentic, will allow you to reach out, to enable trust, sympathy and consideration—both individuals and companies should reflect on this!
If you want your company to create solid customer relationships, stop thinking about special offers, deceiving Calls to Action, or interrupting SEO techniques. Touch your customers with the surprise of a gift—with no strings attached. I can bet you the competition has failed to do just that!
If you are looking for work and you are tired of applying blindly, why not send a gift of your work to those places you like—a sample of your design work, an article, or an interesting insight.
Wonderful sources on the nature of The Gift are Lewis Hyde’s The Gift as well as the highly recognized work of Levi Strauss, from which The Elementary Structure of Kinship provides a rich source of ideas on kinship and exchange. Stay up to date with the factish to discover the nuts and bolts of authenticity and gift giving.
Written by Daniel Vargas Gómez