The Art of Giving

One of my friends is keenly interested in gift-giving. From a sociological perspective, giving gifts reflects important interpersonal ties.

Even though my friend says she’d like to teach a class on gift giving, truth is, her interest stems from childhood when she gave her mum a present that fell flat. Her mum looked disappointed and then quickly recovered, praising the gift.

Since then my friend finds gifting—if you can create a verb—daunting. Still, it makes her take notice and think deeply about what gifts mean and their effect. As a result, she has become a thoughtful giver of gifts.

She asked me about indigenous give-aways and since I wasn’t raised on the rez, I can’t illuminate her studies except to say that one rationale for give-aways is to level the field. Someone who acquires a lot of goods ends of sharing them with other members of the community.

Another pal divulged recently that the family code was to offer gifts to one another that were not too personal. Functional, yes. Emotive, no.

One of the most heart-felt presents I ever received was a mountain bike from my former husband. He stole a pair of my jeans which he took to the store to find the right-sized bike. We spent that summer biking the Appalachian Trail.

Sometimes students give me gifts: always a bit awkward because I don’t expect anything for mentoring a student or teaching a quality class. That’s my job.

Such gifts are always from the heart.

One student loved my class because it opened his eyes to the value of theory: something he had felt was useless. When I showed the film The Matrix to illustrate the construction of reality, he said it knocked his socks off.

When he found out I was a mountain biker he brought me a pair of socks with happy faces, hoping I would wear them biking. So I did.

Another student, when she finished her studies, made me a pair of earrings and a necklace of the colors I often wear: coral and turquoise. Another knit me a scarf with corals and turquoise. International students often bring me tea from China, India and Japan.

A few years ago my daughters brought me some vegetable starts for my untended garden. To honor their gift so I planted a small garden and discovered the arugula took root despite my neglect. I now have a lovely garden thanks to their kindness and insight.

Every Monday I cut flowers from my garden and bring them to our office manager: my small way of saying thanks.

There are lots of books about mindful thinking, mindful exercise and mindful working. I like to think I engage in mindful gift-giving, putting thought into what gift will touch the heart of a family member or pal. The approach is much more rewarding than a jaunt through the mall for a heartless gift.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, film, framing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Art of Giving

  1. David says:

    I was born on my rez and saw gift giving at almost every social event. Quite simply, giving was a virtue that was highly valued by my tribe. Today’s dominant culture puts the emphasis on acquisition. Thus, the huge gap that keeps growing between the rich and the poor in this country.


  2. Thanks for sharing you perspective: it means a lot


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