Pharos-Tribune

Columns

November 19, 2013

MARCUS: Competing views of giving

Oliver Offenon. asks the question: “What is the purpose of this season of buying and buying more?”

“That’s a twisted view,” I respond. “It’s the season of giving. Buying is a necessary activity people engage in as they prepare to give.”

“If people made things, put some of themselves into their gifts,” Oliver says, “it would be different. Giving would be more personal, more significant.”

“What is more personal than your time?” I ask.

“Exactly!” Oliver declares. “Time spent making gifts is a most personal statement about the value of the relationship to the giver.”

“You’re thinking in terms of a romanticized 19th century world, not today’s America,” I say. “Few Americans are proficient in traditional crafts. Most people today don’t know how to work with wood or clay, with wool or cotton. Manufacturing in the 19th century replaced those skills so that there are few who can make furniture or knit sweaters in modern America.

“Mechanization increased production, standardized parts, and made it possible for millions to enjoy quality material goods previously available to only the wealthiest.”

“It’s just not the same,” he says.

“It’s better than the past,” I reply. “Today a giver buys goods (like cell phones) that an ordinary person cannot make. The cost of the cell phone is the number of hours the giver works to earn the price of the cell phone.”

“It’s so impersonal,” Oliver objects.

“It is remarkably personal,” I insist. “For the money a worker earns s/he gets to choose from an enormous variety of goods and services. At the simplest level, a gift of money offers the recipient the opportunity to choose from a virtually limitless catalogue of goodies. The giver is saying, ‘Here are five hours of my life; use them as you choose.’”

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