The Gift of Giving

Hearing about “gift” sounds like something anachronistic nowadays. In capitalist societies, human beings used to buying anything they want; their dreams and their desires are always more influenced by advertising.

The gift has such a marginal role in their life. In wealthy societies, presents find their way into very specific occasions: birthdays, Christmas, weddings, etc; and even during those occasions, gifts seem to be a problem rather than a pleasure. What could I buy? Will my present be appropriate?

But the real value is beyond the common understanding. It has a very important social function ‘links-building’; who receives a gift will be happy to reciprocate with equal generosity creating the circuit of ‘giving-receiving-reciprocating’. These three actions, strongly linked with each other, are continuously repeated and build relationships based on trust and mutual aid.

The modern era has always been characterized by Homo Oeconomicus model that, moving from John Locke, is based on interest as dominant impulse of an autonomous and self-affirmative individual, social bond as product of contractual relationships, and order as result of rational choices. Classical economics and some philosophical currents agree that everyone must pursue his own selfish interest. This way, the society will function well. According to Adam Smith, a free enterprise system, where everyone is free to promote his own interests, it is the most suitable system to provide the greatest benefit to both the individual and the society. According to Smith, the individual’s effort to pursue just his own self-interest determines the maximum welfare for him and for others.

Questions arise spontaneously: in spite of that, why are humans so strong on donating? Why do they persist in supporting others with help? Why do humans take care of people in need?

Giving is expression of solidarity between family members; it is the volunteering action to help sick people, elderly, environmental degradation, animal suffering; it is the free assistance during times of need.

Donating is also most companies’ ethics through Corporate Social Responsibility. From the heart, with generosity and selflessness, caring the others’ advantage, many companies raise money and donate the proceeds to charity. That is the grandest action humans could do. It is a simple, spontaneous gesture that makes those who do it happy but also those who receive it.

Human life cannot and must not be happy with a profit logic; but it is based on a depriving-to-donate cycle. Utilitarianism reduces human life to the quantitative logic of production, acquisition and consumption of goods causing a radical impoverishment, since the very existence is deprived of its most profound sense. At the foundation of human life there is not only the mere law of necessity (as Freud called Ananke), but also the Eros, the bloated and abundant energy movement pressing to find expression and spaces. Otherwise we could not explain all the phenomena associated with the idea of “unproductive consumption” and “unconditional gift” such as cults, poetry, love or charity.

Let me conclude leaving one last thought. Jacques T. Godbout, Canadian essayist and sociologist, argued that “[the gift] not only concerns isolated and disconnected moments of social existence, but its totality. Even today you cannot start or undertake anything, nothing can grow and function if not nourished by giving“.

As private individuals, let’s start donating time and dedication to our neighbour. As workers, let’s become proud members of those companies that make donating a social responsibility and a gesture of hope, which certainly go beyond any conception of utility.

Written by Marta Bellamoli, Marketing Co-ordinator