How to Give a Good Gift
Recall a time when you gave someone a really good gift. That time you got the gift just right. If you were to think about that memory and try to explain what made your gift a good one, what would you say? Is it something about what you gave? Something about the way you gave it?
Even though we all have practiced doing the kinds of actions we call giving a gift, we have a hard time explaining what make some of these go well while others of them just fall flat or are in some other way bad.
We can make some progress by understanding our gift giving actions. We might start by noticing that there’s a rather natural way of breaking up the gift action into three moments.
1. The fists moment of the gift begins with the giver thinking about what to give, we might call it the givers intentions.
2. The second moment of the gifts is the gifts object, the thing that giver decides to give and past the receiver.
3. The third moment of the gift is the effect the gift has on the receiver.
We can approach this 3 moments in a couple different ways. We might treat them as three separate pieces of action or we could alternatively approach them as a unified action. In our commons sense everyday of talking about gifts we go with the separate as opposed to the unified approach. It turns out that non of the three moments of giving can all by itself secure the good gift. That is neither the good intention of the giver, nor the good gift object nor the good effect on the receiver can alone guarantee that the gift will be good.
What we need to do is to change our way of approaching the three moments of giving. Instead of treating the three as separate pieces of action we need to bring the three together and think of them as a single, unified action. Giving a good gift is a unity among intention, object and effect. Making the shift to the unified effects has two consequences for how we think about good giving.
First, the unified approach insists that giving a good gift depends on not just one moment of the gift or even two but on all three. A second consequence is this: the unified approach insists if we’re thinking in the right way about any one of the three moments of giving will be immediately pulled to thinking about the other two. Giving a good gift is the kind of action in each of its moments already includes the other two.
Consider this example: Jane and I have often met for a coffee at her place or mine to catch up over a good conversation. We love to try different types of coffee and find the differences between them. Last week she forgot to buy coffee and we ended up not having our most loved cup of coffee. I decide that a coffee set is just the right thing to give Jane next time we meet, just a gentle reminder to let her know that I hope our friendly tradition continues. I give the gift and she’s touched by it. This is a good gift. I’ve hit all three marks. intention, object, effect and importantly I haven’t hit these as three separate marks, it isn’t that I had and separately I had a thought about coffee and separately something happened to my friend who was happy. Rather the intention that I had already had a sense of what object would mark it and already aimed on the effect of my friend. The object I gave Jane is already an object flowing from my intention as that intention aims at Jane’s enjoyment and the effect I hope to have on my friend is already from the start an effect I’m aiming at with my intention and with the object I gave.
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