Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Giving and Getting

A friend of mine recently mused on his blog about the growing popularity of buying/giving, noting that more and more retailers offer donations to charities and causes when you spend on yourself. He initiated a discussion on this trend of convenient altruism, and whether or not this was a sign of the demise of truly selfless giving.

I thought a lot about what constitutes true benevolence--the kind that entails sacrifice and doesn't automatically come with a big fat dose of self satisfaction. Does giving to make oneself feel good in some way diminish the giving?

This year, as we did last year, our family and extended families adopted a family in need for the holidays. Two of the children in our adopted clan were the same ages as my girls and the cousins, so our kids went shopping and chose presents for them that they would have wished for themselves. We included gift cards for the parents so they could be Santa for their children too.

We drove out to their East County trailer to deliver our gifts last weekend. The five year old daughter welcomed us into her humble home with warmth and excitement. Her parents were gracious and kind despite the mildly awkward occasion.

The little girl opened a few gifts and then disappeared into her bedroom. She emerged with a stuffed cat and offered it tenderly to our three year old. Her mother gently asked her if she really wanted to give away her favorite toy. She nodded with conviction, and before we left, she had given away two more of her treasures to my other daughter and her cousin.

During our visit I was conscious of this episode being to a certain extent about our need to give (we even had the gratification of observing the receipt of our gifts), as well as our desire to have our fortunate children be part of something altruistic. We attempt to model this kind of giving because we (selfishly?) want our children to be good, generous people. We attempt to fight the consumerism, materialism, wantism, grass-is-greenerism that surrounds us and even worms its way in from time to time.

Nevertheless, I tried to imagine my daughters giving away their most prized, treasured possessions to someone they had only just met and would not likely see again.

I'm still mulling that over.

In the meantime, our daughter named her stuffed animal after that kind kindergartner who showed us what the season is really all about.


Betsy Noel said...

WOW. That story is incredible.

Mama Deb said...

That was so refreshing and sweet to read.