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On Giving

The next time you need to buy a present for someone, and have absolutely no idea what to get them, consider this advice from David Whyte, offered in Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words:

"Giving that is… automatic, chore-based, walking round the mall-based, exhausts us, debilitates us, and in the end is quite often subtly insulting to the one whom we eventually give the random item.

Better to spend a long time sitting in our armchairs in silent contemplation of those we want to gift, looking for the imaginative doorway that says I know you and see you and this is how I give thanks for you, which may bring us to the perfect objet but also may bring us instead to write the short heartfelt message that acknowledges their place in our lives."

We are generally unaccustomed to telling others what we appreciate about them, however, and it can be hard to know what to say. For inspiration, look no further than the first book of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Titled “Debts and Lessons”, it lists those whom the Roman Emperor felt contributed to his life, and why he was grateful for each of them. It’s an uplifting read.

If we can overcome our own discomfort at being so emotionally expressive, such a written message can be what Whyte considers the perfect gift:

"The full genius of gift giving is found when we give what a person does not fully feel they deserve, but that does not overstretch the point, it is the appropriate but surprising next step in their lives. It disarms and moves and empowers all at once while gratifying the one who gives beyond most everyday satisfactions."