The gift of love

Oh, fantastic, a goat. But wait. This is just a piece of paper. The goat is in Africa, you say? Are you getting it delivered? It’s not for me? Where is my present, then?

It hasn’t happened to me yet, but one day someone is going to give me a gift certificate as a present. A goat in Malawi, a donkey in Angola, that kind of thing. Manners dictate that I thank her (let’s assume it’s a woman) for it, but it shall be through gritted teeth. I understand the intention: I have effectively given my present to someone more deserving. But I haven’t, because I had no agency in the transaction. The giver has given my present to someone more deserving. She has effectively given my present – a sense of well-being – to herself. A gift certificate is not, in fact, a gift at all, but an ostentatious act of piety.

Presents and charity seem similar because they both involve giving, but people who suggest they are the same are using the fallacy of equivocation – jumping between concepts that share the same word. The skill of giving a good present is knowing what the person wants, not prescribing it for them. Gift certificates make good presents only for the sort of person who, when asked what they want for Christmas, replies “world peace”.

4 Responses to “The gift of love”

  1. beobachtend Says:

    Hey, thanks a lot!
    Loved reading your blog as well…

  2. Tom L Says:

    I agree that it’s quite a perplexing gift to receive out of the blue, and buy into your logic … unless, of course, you actually ask for your gift to be funding for the purchase of a goat, or the destruction of an AK47 somewhere chronically impoverished.

    Things like Oxfam Unwrapped and Present Aid are attempts to re-connect the stingy old public with the ultimate beneficiaries of charitable giving, much like the earlier sponsor-a-child systems and whatnot. Present Aid raised about £3million over Christmas 2005, but I don’t know how it compares to other giving patterns, or how sustainable a marketing strategy it is. Interesting stuff though …

  3. pouletnoir Says:

    I’m not arguing that giving to charity is wrong. I just think that it should be down to the individual what they give, and to whom.

  4. Tom L Says:

    I agree with you completely.

    Rather off-topic, though: I’d like some PR guru to explain to me why these particular initiatives have suddenly caught the public’s imagination. They’re not original ideas – Send a Cow have been doing it for years, but without the trendiness.

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