Give a gift that matters

It wasn't that long ago that the act of "gift giving" didn’t require a maddening trip to Wal-Mart or a desperate online search for this season's must-have toy. Rather, a gift implied something from within, a little piece of yourself, no matter how small, showing you care.

It wasn’t that long ago that the act of “gift giving” didn’t require a maddening trip to Wal-Mart or a desperate online search for this season’s must-have toy. Rather, a gift implied something from within, a little piece of yourself, no matter how small, showing you care.

Could that old-fashioned concept possibly become new-fashioned? Yes. With today’s working class depression severely restricting the ability of most people to splurge on “stuff,” and with the public’s rising unwillingness to keep shoveling their money at narcissistic corporate profiteers, a return to a more modest – but also deeper – spirit of gift-giving seems to be spreading. Realizing that buying globalized corporate crap is not really a gift, more and more people are putting their money where their values are. They’re buying from local artisans, fair trade merchants, certified sweatshop-free manufacturers, recycling shops, co-ops, farmer’s markets, homeless centers, church bazaars, charities, and other sources of the burgeoning non-corporate economy.

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And what if you used your gifts as a way to inspire the recipients of your presents to tap into their own generosity? This is surprisingly easy to do. As proposed by a Methodist church group in Austin, Texas, just send a bit of cash to that grandson, niece, mother-in-law, or whomever – on the condition that they must donate the money to a charitable organization of their choosing. Yes, they might very well donate to some group that you don’t like, but stimulating the philanthropic impulse in today’s self-focused society is itself a radical act. Five dollars, fifty, a hundred, or whatever can make recipients think beyond their own possessions – and that alone is a social advancement.

We can all do our bit to spread the happy notion that the best gifts are not the ones we get, but the thoughtful ones we give.

“Gifts That Say You Care,” The New York Times, December 3, 2011.

“Consider giving cash so that others can give,” Austin American Statesman, December 17, 2011.

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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