It’s that time of year again, and I know you’ve got a list. Maybe you’re checking it twice trying to figure out who gets large gifts, who gets small gifts, who just gets cards, and who gets nothing at all. I know you’re doing it because I am too, and it’s hard every single year because we care about what others think of us. We can’t help it; we’re human. And then when all your shopping is squared away and the designated presents are winging their way hither and yon you receive one from somebody you left completely off your list after much contemplation. You let out an expletive and hope you can get something small in the mail and to them before Christmas. Why? Because of a little thing called reciprocity.
Let me state this from the start: I cannot stand reciprocity because it presupposes we “have to” get someone something because they got something for us. It means we’re not doing it because we value them or because we enjoy giving them things. We’re doing it only because we feel beholden, because we feel we owe them. And that’s societal, believe you me. Society says tit for tat, give to receive and receive to give. Those two concepts gave gotten all tied up and twisted together that we can’t distinguish them from each other no matter how hard we might try.
Reciprocity means we give because we know we will receive. Whatever happened to giving for the sake of giving, to wanting to see then other person’s face and take joy in that? Bah humbug, says I, while I call a foul on the play. We should give because we want to, not because we feel forced into it by the actions of others. But we don’t want to be judged harshly by society and by those who gave us gifts, so we give in time and time again.
The scary part is that reciprocity has spread like a disease, not just at this time of year but from one holiday to the next. Everyone gives cards to their coworkers for Halloween so you do too. All the kids are handing out candies for Valentine’s Day so you buy some for your kid to hand away. Easter has turned into everyone buying electronics for each other so you get your boyfriend an expensive sound system. You want to keep up with everyone else. You want to give because you know you will receive. You would feel guilty if you only received, and you would feel slighted if you only gave. Reciprocity.
I was in a store a few weeks looking for a gift to give my wife, and when I asked one of the sales associates to help me she asked what it was for. I said that it was simply because I appreciate my wife and she looked at me like I had grown a third head. This is where we’ve gotten to as a society when a man wanting to buy something for his wife “just because” is a crazy notion. We live from one holiday to the next and the ante has been upped considerably from one to the next as well, so much so that we make lists for them all and consult them on our phones to keep up. How sad is that? Where’s the joy anymore in giving “just because”?