Give to Get

In many ways, human interaction is driven by a give-to-get (GTG) system. Yes, we want to give things (time, money, presents, help, etc.) to others. This is genuine. Just as genuine, though, is a ubiquitous desire to get something in return.

Given the omnipresence of this system, it’s conspicuous whenever someone operates outside of it. And that someone is both xxxxxxxxx and xxxxxxxxx.

I legitimately know of nobody else who repeatedly gives gifts without ever receiving any in return. I mean, yes, of course, you receive the good feelings one gets from being generous, but something tangible? Nope.

I mentally go back years and recall a multitude of items from Northwestern shirts (with the dope old school Big Ten logo), to treasure troves of music, to meals. The sum total is rather impressive. Impressive not just in the frequency and quantity, but in the genuine thoughtfulness required to consistently maintain such a high standard of gift-giving excellence.

And, as stated once two paragraphs ago, it shall be stated here again because it cannot be overstated: others may start off giving gifts like you both, but they will stop once it becomes clear that GTG is not in play. You both, remarkably, don’t stop.

This all got me thinking about why I hadn’t given you guys a wedding gift (major reason: I was once told there is a year window in which to give wedding gifts. I shall stand by that rule ‘til death). Wedding gifts, I hypothesize, are the archetypal example of GTG. Does anyone really get excited about procuring an overpriced china set which will be used, on average, less than 2.5 times? My guess: no.

You don’t even get to see the person open the gift, which actually says a lot about the transactional nature of the whole enterprise. Because when you are proud of a gift, you damn sure want to see the person react (if not in person, at least via some immediate method of communication such as a text like, “OMG!!! I just opened your package and tears are running down my face”).

Conversely, with wedding gifts the giver will receive some token thank you card months later reminding him/her of the totally forgettable gift he/she was forced to purchase as admission to the wedding.

Yet, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with GTG; we humans often require social pressure to drive the behavior we want to exhibit but nonetheless struggle to – actually doing what we say we want to do is an eternal battle. In this case, we all want to be more generous. And in this case, even gifting some item off a wedding registry qualifies.

But why oh why do we want to be more generous? Strip away the social rewards and feelings of should that accompany GTG, and you find something worth celebrating: we want to be more generous because it engenders deeper connections with fellow humans.

Being generous, in even seemingly trivial ways, gets us to stop thinking only of ourselves, which is both liberating and rewarding. If this is true in GTG (it is), it’s truer the further someone operates outside of GTG.

Stay with me here as this could seem a bit dramatic. If the giver gets, at least for a moment, a pause in the endless selfishness of his/her mind, what does the getter get? Validation of his/her own existence. Seriously. Again, maybe it’s just a moment, but receiving gifts serves as a real reminder that I matter.

Knowing this, there is no gift too trivial to be meaningless. Knowing this, it’s rather sensible that people crave the second G in GTG. Knowing this, it renders your collective operation on the outskirts of GTG even more impressive as you set a noble example all can admire, an example that says self-meaning can indeed come solely through giving.

 For that, among so many reasons, I am thankful to call you both friends.

Congratulations on the wedding.