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Gifts and Alms to Others – Its The Thought That Counts

December 17, 2014

In recent times I have denounced pacifism, considered thorny questions of durable peace, discussed complex financial schemes, talked repeatedly of self reliance, common advice and more.

And yet all this advice to a good life and social benefit is nothing without kindness and a care for others.

As we head into a season of goodwill and merriment, we must not forget this message. We must remember why Christmas is important. Christmas is associated with kindness, as if we can try to be kind to others for just a little while in the year. Yet I would argue that altruism has great benefits.

Today I wish to discuss gift giving at Christmas time. I’ll argue that you should give gifts to others, not out of necessity, but of goodwill, for one cannot receive without first giving. I’ll argue that what matters is the money you spend, though you should be liberal in gift giving, but the thought you give to others.

The thought you give to others. Isn’t that what gifts to others should be about? Them?

Give from Goodwill

So often, people complain that they must ‘do the Christmas shopping’, that it is a burden to go buy all these gifts. That all this merriment is materialism gone mad, and that its not worth the hassle.

A burden. To the buyer. Forget giving to others of your own accord. Its your time that counts. They’re asking too much of you. Its the idea that the time we spend on others is more important than the idea of kindness.

This should not be so.

Treat kindness not as a burden to be borne on busy shoulders, but an angelic tailwind driving you on. Giving to others can be like a puzzle. Vexing, but worth it in the end. To give them the right gift is to try and give them the most pleasure. To give them a gift is done not because there is a social convention, but because you genuinely care about someone. Even if it’s a person who isn’t the closest of friends, a gift can still recognise an admirable trait, and what good one has done.

Give from goodwill, and you are thinking of others. You are encouraging their good traits. Give from a social burden, and you cannot help but be weary eyed, cold, and shallow.

But it is more than that. If you do not give, how can you expect to receive? If you do not do unto others as you would wish done to you, how can you expect the treatment you desire? To build a world of kindness, joy and altruism, we must all take a step. And we must not wait for some leader to take the step. We must take it ourselves, to encourage others to step forward. We cannot ask for something unless we are willing to do it ourselves.

So the first conclusion is, give, and give with goodwill. Do unto others as you would want other to do unto you. And be the leader. Take the first act of goodwill.

Some of you are thinking now that this means giving expensive gifts to show the size of our compassion, that to give to hundreds will be to break the budget.

This is where we turn next.

It Is The Thought That Counts

There was an article about Christmas in the Sunday Herald a few weeks back. The writer, who I normally read with interest, was discussing budgeting and strict planning for Christmas. Budget to avoid debt. Don’t overspend. Keep your finances on track.

Now, the message was laudable. Good financial health is important. Getting into debt to give gifts isn’t what I recommend, for debt can be slavery, and we must first be self-reliant, able to stand on our own two feet before helping others rise.

And yet… the article really irked me. Here was a writer putting finance first at Christmas. It is not goodwill to others, or joy to all that was his concern, it was financial health. That is tragic. People talk of materialism. Others talk about minimalism. They seem like polar opposites but they’re not. They are both still obsessed with stuff. The materialist with material items, the minimalist with avoiding them like the plague.

Both lose sight of what matters in life. Kindness, duty, self-reliance, altruism. That is what matters. That is what should always be guiding our thoughts. If we must be obsesses, let it be by kindness and not finance… or things.

The tale of Jesus’ birth harkens to a simplicity, spirituality and kindness that is what Christmas should be about. A kindness and goodwill that counts. You need not believe to see the value of kindness over materialism.

At the heart of kindness is thinking of others. Being kind to others means taking note of their concerns and helping them. Sometimes we do this subconciosuly through training – giving an old lady a hand. Other times, like selling for charity, its conscious. Either way, one thinks of others. And this is what is important.

Let me give you the example of my office’s Christmas gift giving today, for it was well done. An exemplar.

Everybody got everybody else an item. So we all gave some thought to each other. Some, cognisant of their greater wealth, gave larger gifts, giving thought to others. The office, however, set a general price range to the giving, so that giving was not about pride, money or prestige, but the act of giving. Sometimes the gifts were more specific. I gave one young lady a half dozen flavours of tea, having observed her interest in a more unique style of tea when I served her tea. I gave a solicitor a bottle of wine, not as a standard gift, but because the solicitor had returned from a wine tasting trip recently. This is an example of a more specialised gift, having thought of others. But, having only been in the job for a few weeks part time, I didn’t have the insight to give specialised gifts to everyone. So there was a box of chocolate. But, I also tried to be adventurous – scented placemats, for instance – as a way out of the ordinary. And, I did not just give gifts. I made cards. I have a policy of never buying cards from store.  I always craft my own cards on my computer, largely from scratch. For every member of my office I made a different design of card. On some cards I noted the kind of person somebody was, and altered the colour scheme, pictures and quotes (if any) accordingly. I referred to personal anecdotes where possible. I like to think I gave a little thought to my co-workers.

And yet, others did more.

One young lady handmade 2 stunning  Christmas decorations (admittedly of the same style) to all of us. Handmade, with all the drawing, paint schemes, ribbon tying… everything hand-made.

And it was beautiful.

I stopped to think of the time that must have gone into that. I was stunned. So were others. I know that I had considered baking shortbread for someone, yet this was something else.

And yet others too did great things. The firm owner treated us to a lunch. He was magnanimous. And even apart from gifts, others were just always being kind. When I had to use another’s phone to make a call, they were willing, despite the formal atmosphere.

In short, everyone cared, and had clearly put time into their gifts. These were co-workers, not friends or family, and yet what kindness there was. And how good that was.

And, it wasn’t that expensive. Some of us spent only a little over $50, in total.

It is the thought that counts.

Thoughts Need to Be Meaningful

Ordinarily, I’d end here. Thoughts are important, gifts important etc. But one final thing.

Just because money isn’t important doesn’t mean that you can just go say “Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year” , and that’s all. That’s not being thoughtful. That’s empty words, doing nothing about the merest socially acceptable catchphrase.

If you wish to use just words, you better make those words fine ones. Thoughtfully crafted words. Not empty, meaningless platitudes from a banal advertisement.

Conclusions

This Christmas I advise that you give, and give with goodwill. Do unto others as you would want other to do unto you. And be the leader. Take the first act of goodwill to build a better world. And when giving, remember, remember, it is the thought that counts.

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