Thanksgiving chord: gifts and gratitude

I was looking through the gratitude quotes in my wiki and saw this:

Nobility and gratitude. — A noble soul will be happy to feel itself bound in gratitude and will not try anxiously to avoid the occasions when it may be so bound; it will likewise be at ease later in expressing gratitude; while cruder souls resist being bound in any way, or are later excessive and much too eager in expressing their gratitude.

My own experience confirms this. Easy gratitude seems to correspond with personalities I admire, and an incapacity to accept, acknowledge or reciprocate generosity tends occur in pettier personalities. ‘Tis better to give than receive? The degree to which it is better might be inversely proportional to the size of one’s soul.

This passage also reminded of a passage from Mary Douglas’s foreword to Marcel Mauss’s The Gift (which I really, really need to finish):

Charity is meant to be a free gift, a voluntary, unrequited surrender of resources. Though we laud charity as a Christian virtue we know that it wounds. I worked for some years in a charitable foundation that annually was required to give away large sums as the condition of tax exemption. Newcomers to the office quickly learnt that the recipient does not like the giver, however cheerful he be. This book explains the lack of gratitude by saying that the foundations should not confuse their donations with gifts. It is not merely that there are no free gifts in a particular place, Melanesia or Chicago for instance; it is that the whole idea of a free gift is based on a misunderstanding. There should not be any free gifts. What is wrong with the so-called free gift is the donor’s intention to be exempt from return gifts coming from the recipient. Refusing requital puts the act of giving outside any mutual ties. Once given, the free gift entails no further claims from the recipient. … A gift that does nothing to enhance solidarity is a contradiction.

What is interesting to me about this, especially in connection with the notion of nobility, is that nobles, in the literal sense, gained their power socially. They knew how to make alliances of mutual obligation. It might be the case that generosity and willingness to accept, acknowledge and reciprocate generosity is the instinct that creates and preserves social power. People with instinctive generosity understand how to transcend their mere individuality and to invest in the social beings that sustain individuality. More “selfish” people try to figure out how to maximize their own individual freedom by evading mutual obligation both by refusing gifts and by suppressing the belief that anything has been given to them and its consequence gratitude.

Gift-giving and gift-receiving has different significance depending on the person with whom the exchange occurs. The noble gift exchange feels like a mutual investment in a relationship where the petty gift exchange feels like a transfer of property between individuals.

(Having written this, I had to go into my wiki and link the Gratitude and the Gift-giving virtue themes. Both virtues seem to connect with the capacity for understanding and participating in relationships. This is why gift-exchange is central in my book, The Ten Thousand Everythings.)

 

 

Leave a Reply