Friday, April 28, 2006

Thinking about Giving

Thinking About Giving

What actually lives in the gesture of a gift?

The most outstanding characteristic of a gift is that it increases in value when it is given. Value is, of course, a complicated subject, but it can also be simple and personal. Suppose it is winter, and you have an infrequently-worn warm coat in your closet. If you were to give that coat to someone who has none, then the value of that coat has increased drastically because of its increased usefulness, regardless of its original cost or sentimental value. Value depends upon the perspective from which it is viewed and is definitely relative­—to our feelings, perceptions, and historical context.

Something else important is happening within this picture. The coat was hanging in a closet, out of circulation you could say, maybe even in cold storage or mothballs. Once given, it is now moving about in the world providing bodily warmth and helping someone focus on their life tasks instead of the condition of being cold. This picture presumes a kind of ideal world in which the human being is valued more highly than material goods.

Money, especially gift money, works in a similar way. Money, which has been heavily or continuously used either for purchase or investment, or held in “cold storage” such as land or real estate where its primary purpose is an increase in monetary value, needs to be renewed by enabling human capacity for envisioning or forming the future. And, this enabling must be done without any expectation of monetary return. Where money makes possible the furtherance of human capacity, money is given, in a sense, a new life. Its value has increased for benefit of culture and humanity rather than for the benefit of its giver.

There is a secondary aspect of this gift transaction that is equally important. That is, how is the gift received? A gift usually comes with an intention. If the recipient acknowledges the intention, feels responsible to it, then they have in a sense met the giver half way. In this act, a spiritual link, almost like a handshake, between the past and the future is created. This link is also a critical part of the increased value of the gift, a transformation from monetary or trade value to human value.

John Bloom © 2006

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