It’s how you treat people that’s
By Michelle Singletary: Dec.
BY THE TIME you read this, you've probably already opened your
holiday gifts. And I'm willing to bet many of you were disappointed or
bitter about what you received.
If so, you need to read Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Gifts."
(You can go on-line and find the essay easy enough).
In it, Emerson writes, Me is a good man, who an receive a gift
That's a well known quote but there's a follow-up that is often
left out and is the reason for such discord during the holidays.
Emerson goes on to say: "We are either glad or sorry at a gift,
and both emotions are unbecoming. Some violence, I think, is done, some
degradation borne, when I rejoice or grieve at a gift. I am sorry when
... a gift comes from such as do not know my spirit, and so the act is
not supported; and if the gift pleases me overmuch, then I should be
ashamed that the donor should read my heart, and see that I love his
commodity, and not him."
Someone opened a present this holiday and internally (and in
some cases openly) said: "I can't believe so and so gave me this ugly
sweater, soap gift basket, terrible tie, awful perfume" or whatever it
was that they thought so unsatisfactory
Or it may be the case that someone specifically wanted a visit
by certain relatives during the holidays because of the gifts they came
bearing. (This also happens quite a bit when it comes to deciding whom
to invite to a wedding.)
Why has giving become so difficult to the point that some of us
get knots in our stomachs worrying whether we will give the right thing
or that our gift cost enough to reflect our true Sections?
Because Emerson is right when he says gifts can become "a kind
of symbolical sin-offering, or payment of blackmail."
The message we an; telling people is: You had better give the
right present if you don't want me to become upset.
Give the wrong gift and you are in danger of someone
ungraciously dismissing your thought as trite.
Right now there is a husband or significant other who is
suffering because he didn't get his honey a gift that proves his love.
I used to be guilty of this holiday torture.
I remember one Christmas my husband (who was my fianc'e then)
gave me a number of exercise outfits. He thought the items were the
perfect presents because I had joined a gym and had been talking about
getting some new workout clothes.
However in my mind, the gifts showed he thought I was fat. I
wept right there in front of him.
It pains me all these years later that I made him sad because he
didn't choose what I thought was the right gift.
The fact is we put too much weight on whether the gift
illustrates whether someone loves us or knows us well enough to get
just the right thing.
Recently I asked readers to give their thoughts on the practice
of re-gifting. In the midst of griping about re-gifts they'd received
realized how perverse are many people's expectations of
what a present should be.
One woman wrote: "My mom is a re-gifter. About three years ago,
my sister and I decided that we would discourage any gift-gifing from
her. We open the boxes in her presence, and if it's something we detest
or recognize, we leave it with her and it does not come home."
How rude. Handing a present back to someone in disgust is the
act of an ingrate.
It doesn't matter if you don't like the gift, you should always
accept it with grace. I don't care what you get. That doesn't mean you
can't return it for something else or secretly vow to tuck it away in a
closet. But you should never offend the giver.
I received a note from a reader who initially complained that a
member of her family and his wife gave expensive. but lousy presents
(they are bad re-gifters, she said).
"It's clear they did not spend the time to pick out something
special for myself or my family as I always do for them," the reader
wrote. "This makes for unnecessary bitterness, especially when one
considers that they can well afford to do otherwise."
I asked if the couple displayed love and support for her and her
family in other ways.
"You're right," she e-mailed back. "They are wonderful people,
just bad gift-givers."
Yes, it's wonderful to receive a present that reflects your
character or interests. And yes, it can be a disappointment when that
But I've learned over the years that it's how people treat you,
not what they give you, that is the real measure of how much they value
As Emerson says in his essay, "Rings and other jewels are not
gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself,"
Michelle Singletary welcomes comments and column ideas, though she
cannot offer specific personal financial advice, Her email address is
singletarym@ washpost.com. Readers, can write to her c/o The Washington
Post, 1150 ISO St., N.A., Washington, DC. 20071.