Is giving something important?

Why do we give something to each other?

People don't just give each other something for Christmas and birthdays. The handing over of small and large attentions has a long tradition in many cultures. Giving a gift can serve a wide variety of social functions - and receiving a gift is not always a positive experience. A study of the topic shows that giving is an art with many facets.

It becomes particularly interesting when gifts are not given in a private setting. Because as a souvenir on state visits or as a treat for business customers, gifts are perceived in a completely different way. Depending on the assessment of the recipient, a present can quickly be classified as unsuitable and arouse negative associations. Especially those who want to make their company better known in a business context should rather rely on tried and tested classics of advertising instead of soliciting attention with overly exotic gifts. Gender-specific gifts can also be tricky: companies that give their female customers cooking utensils and their male sporting goods risk being accused of reinforcing stereotypes, for example. And that's anything but good advertising.

What use can gifts have?

There are several theories about giving as a social act. One says that the handing over of a gift developed from the search for a partner. So you gave something to win someone else over. Whether metaphorically or literally - to this day that is still one of the tasks that a gift can take on.

Gifts strengthen and improve relationships between people. Even children notice this when they learn why one should share sweets with friends, for example. According to the ethnologist Marcel Mauss, it is not only important that something is given when giving, but also that the other side accepts the gift. Usually there is also the expectation that the recipient will answer the other with a gift at some point. Mauss drew his conclusions from observations of "archaic" societies and published them as early as 1923 in a study. But there is no doubt that this attitude is also common in more modern cultures.

Another theory suggests that gift giving developed out of the need to clarify the balance of power. Only those who have more than they need can give gifts. If someone with great wealth makes a present to someone who cannot reciprocate with gifts of equal value, this underscores the lesser status of the recipient. If this theory is correct, it can of course lead to the recipient being more ashamed than happy about the gift. Or it ends in a real gift contest for which in earlier times had to be pillaged or today a loan is sometimes taken out.

Evaluation of gifts

Even if the above theories assume that gifts do have a use for the giver, a gift given for altruistic reasons is still the accepted ideal. Those who give too obviously to take advantage of, seem to be more likely to barter in the eyes of most people.

Especially in the case of non-private gifts that are given in a political or business context, the mistrust of the recipient and observers is often great, since in such cases it is often assumed that the gift is a means to a specific purpose. An example of this are large sums of money that wealthy people donate to charitable projects. What looks positive at first glance quickly leads skeptics to suspect that the giver wants to put himself in a good light with the gift. It is also often critically questioned how the wealth that made the donation possible came about at all.

Another example of gifts that are not given for altruistic reasons are all those cases in which the giver hopes to gain business benefits from them. Large amounts of money that industrialists donate to parties that decide on economically relevant laws are almost always viewed as undue influence. The same goes for generous gifts to influential individuals. If the recipient then accepts these gifts, the distrust of the population is often transferred to them as well. When accepting gifts, you should therefore also think about motivation and effect.

October 7, 2019