The grief of giving

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Don’t lend if you don’t want to lose

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Mar 2, 2016

I learned my lesson when I was young. I was old enough to know what was mine, but also had the teachings of generosity instilled in me. So, now and then, when someone expressed interest in something that I had, I would let them borrow it. Be it a book, a toy, a video, or a game, as long as they took care of it, I would lend it. The thing is, they wouldn’t take care of it. They would forget about it. I never issued a return date, so if I never asked, it would never be heard of again.

For a while, I thought such a lending process between friends and family is only flawed because my friends and family were irresponsible and inconsiderate. Turns out, the majority of the world is like this. And it makes sense. Since you yourself are not a library, you do not have the capacity to keep track of everything you’ve lent to people, or have any means of enforcing timely returns. Therefore, people do not fulfill their end of the deal.

I learned this when I was young, and today, I am hesitant to let anybody “borrow” anything that I wouldn’t instinctively give as a gift.

The lending between friends and family model is made more complicated in adulthood. Rather than borrowing toys, games, or other tangible crap, they are borrowing money. Which is fine, there is nothing better than treating your friends to a dinner or paying for their ticket to the movie—if it is a gift. However, when the exchange is referred to as “borrow” or “lending” it makes the lender wonder if they will see that money ever again.

What’s a few bucks between friends, right? I agree. I would never let $100—or even $200— ruin my friendships. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be in dire need and would like to “borrow” a couple hundred bucks from them to sustain my extravagant lifestyle. For now, I’ll just treat is as a gift. Enjoy.

Nevertheless, if that’s how the wheels are turning, every once in awhile, I’d expect it to roll the other way. You pay this time; I’ll pay the next. Unless you are my Turtle from Entourage, I am not going to pay for everything you do. After all, you haven’t returned what you have borrowed.

We can bitch and moan about people not paying us back or having a ridiculous friendship-debt, but I believe the onus always fall on the lender. If a bank keeps lending money to degenerates, it wouldn’t be cool; it would be an unsuccessful bank. So I say this: whatever you are paying for people, whatever you are lending to people, whatever extra step or measure you take for someone else, make sure it is either respected as a debt that must be paid, or as a gift that can be received gratefully.

If you don’t want to lose something, don’t give it away. You are not the bank. You are not the store. You are not the library. You are a person. If it’s not a gift, don’t treat it as such.

So this is Christmas and what have you done?

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Give a reason to remember this holiday season

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. December 2, 2014

It’s been said over and over again, yet every year I still see aisle upon aisle of useless garbage in department stores and super markets. The annual exchange of knick-knacks and thingamajigs is the primary reason I get rather turned off by people’s behaviour this holiday season. I see them stressing out, spending money, and swapping items that serve no real function or trigger little lasting memory. It’s been said over and over again, but let’s try it again this year: give an experience, not trash.

The orgasmic thrill of unwrapping presents is a trait so human it might as well be related to the joys of eating; however, gifts do not need to be wrapped. We love unwrapping stuff, but more often than not, after you have left, the recipient of your gift will just have to “deal with it.” Room is limited, and presents quickly become garbage. Unless you are feeding your friends and families’ sick hoarding problems, you are giving them something they don’t need. And if they do need it, they’ll probably buy it themselves.

When I say, “give an experience” or “make a memory,” I don’t necessarily mean buying your friends, families, co-workers, or next-door neighbour a plane ticket to a tropical island; I mean you can take your friend out to lunch, take your parents to the movies, make dinner for your neighbours, or buy a case of beer and share it with your peeps.

It’s not about being frugal—it’s about being smart. I hate spending money knowing that it’s ultimately going to end up in the dump. I know when I’m giving a thoughtless gift just to keep face during the holiday season, and I know that other people do it too. I have nothing against those who claim that buying body lotions, coffee mugs, decorative soaps, holiday gift packs, satirical sweaters, or seasonal plush toys is an act of generosity, but please transfer those generous acts into something memorable or at least purposeful.

We always pretend as though Christmas is a one-day event, but it’s in fact a whole season. Few of us wake up on December 25 and unwrap gifts as if it’s a big spectacle. We have many days to celebrate, we have many days to share some experiences. All we need to do is trade in those hours we allot each year for shopping into hours we can share with the people we care about.

Make some food, plan a trip, take the time, and don’t give something that is forgotten by March.

I’ll save it for someone special

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Keep the receipt; you have the right to return the gifts you don’t want

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in the Other Press. Jan. 7, 2014

There are many circumstances to gift exchanges, including traditions, hospitality, and romances. Although these gestures are often associated with goodwill and thoughtfulness, gifts can also become temptations, garbage, and good ol’ white elephants. Despite the occasional awkwardness that comes with gift giving, nothing compares to the gross attitude of returning gifts.

It often stuns me to see the line-up at department stores, set up specifically for returns. After the holiday season, consumers will find a day to gather all the unopened gifts they’ve received from Aunt Jane or Uncle Paul and return them for store credits—or if they’re lucky, money back. Maybe sometimes Aunt June and Uncle Paul will give their approval for returning their gifts, but who really has the gall to ask?

There is a stigma that comes with returning gifts, and rightly so. Purchasing presents can often be a stressful chore. Shopping malls become a battlefield, so much so that gift receivers should feel grateful that they got anything at all. But no! The onus should be on the giver to find the perfect gift and not simply settle once their feet are tired from doing the third lap around Metrotown. If you are going to buy someone something, make sure it is something they want, need, or will at least have a chuckle at.

Giving a gift with no thought behind it can be more insulting than not giving a gift at all. Sometimes people say, “It’s the thought that counts.” Well, was there really any thought at all? Sure you might’ve thought about them, but you didn’t consider their personality, their wants and desires, or even if they wanted you to give them a gift at all—because, hey, maybe they didn’t think about you. Not all your acquaintances will consider you gift-worthy, and they might simply omit you from their list for shopping-sanity reasons. So if you can’t confirm that the person enjoys chocolate, save the Ferrero Rocher for someone else; if you can’t confirm that the person enjoys reading, don’t buy a book (a.k.a. homework); and if you can’t confirm that the person wants a tacky antique figurine in their home, well I want it, I love tacky stuff.

Gift giving is an art form; skilled gift givers can read someone, assess their relationship with that person, and offer something of value. But after the gift is exchanged, it no longer belongs to the gift giver; it belongs to the receiver, and it’s theirs to do with as they please. Should they choose to return it, re-gift it, or allow it to sit on the shelf until your next visit—to show you how much they care—that is up to them.

Never condemn someone for returning your gifts, because giving a gift is all about making someone happy. Burdening them with your lack of thought is not what you intended, so suck up your pride—it was never really about you.