Gifts by Ralph Waldo Emerson
About the author .. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 -1882) was among the foremost thinkers of his times. He wrote poems, essays, and gave numerous lectures. His lectures bore the hallmarks of his incisive analysis of societal values, the emptiness of minds of the rich, and his espousing of individualism. Many intellectuals of his age lauded him for pioneering role in the transcendental movement. Two of his best-known books ‘Essays : First Series’ and ‘Essays : Second Series’ contain the self-edited versions of his lectures. They point to his ability to analyze social issues with no dogma or prejudice. This essay ‘Gifts’ dwells upon the virtues of selfless giving.
The essay .. First Para .. The author starts his essay with a quote
Gifts of one who loved me,–
‘T was high time they came;
When he ceased to love me,
Time they stopped for shame.
A person yearns for the love from others. When people love others, they present him with gifts. When love disappears, gifts cease to come. Such melting away f love is unfortunate and it should put the gift giver to shame. This statement underlines the importance of ove.
There is a perennial shortage of of gifts and gift-givers in this world. The dearth of this is so bad that the world seems to be constantly trying to grapple with this shortage. The need of such noble traits is very acute indeed. During Christmas and New Year periods, we experience a heightened desire to give gifts. The scramble for gifts seems to exceed what is in offer.
The problem that most feel is to decide what exactly is to be gifted. Judicious selection of the gift item evokes the intended reaction in the gift getter. Perfunctory choosing of gifts leads to no impression on the receiver.
Second Para .. Among the umpteen choices available to be chosen as gift items, flowers and fruits appear to the author as two very obvious choices. Flowers symbolize the loftiest and most charming offerings of nature. Through their breathtaking beauty and variety, flowers beguile the mind. Nature quite frequently unveils its frightening, ugly, and ghoulish face. However, a blossom emerges from the morbid background bringing with it its genteel, fresh, and bewitching face. Flowers are undoubtedly the messengers of love and sublime creativity. Flowers make us feel good, wanted, and important. In a way, flowers flatter us in a subtle way.
Fruits, to a large extent, are adorable items to be given away as gift. People cherish fruits because these are nature’s best offerings to its children. If a fruit grower walks a unusually long distance carrying the basket on his back and presents it to his friend, the sheer labour of love involved in the transportation of the fruits proportionately enhances the self-importance of the recipient. There is always the feel-good feeling attached to fruits.
Third Para … Looking at the task of choosing a gift from a mundane angle, ordinary items that the recipient needs make good choices. Presenting a pair of shoes to a bare-footed person fills his heart with instant joy, because he was craving for a pair of shoes. So, ordinary day-to-day items should not be dismissed as being unworthy of being called gift items. Seeing a hungry man eating with relish is always a pleasing sight. So, why not gift food items to those who need it most? [We can see how the flood-affected people marooned in water for days look forward to food packets.]
Another considering the suitability of choosing a gift item for any dedicated human being is to see what particular item suits his hobby or desire. It is like presenting a guitar to a music student, or giving a dictionary to a young language learner.]
We, however, tend to err when we choose rings or jewels as gifts. These are very high value items that we buy at great cost to ourselves. They convey no amount of personal sentiment or sacrifice. The giver expects the receiver to love it for its monetary worth. So, gifting costly rings and jewels is a barren idea. When a poet brings his poem, a shepherd brings a lamb from his herd, a farmer brings a portion of his harvest etc. etc., the giver parts with a portion of his own self. In the same vein, when a person writes the biography of another person, and presents it to the latter, he instantly builds an emotional bond. Such gifts are valued and received with warmth and delight. In terms of monetary value, such gifts may be insignificant, but for the recipient treasures them. Such gifts touch the heart.
When the intention of giving gift is enhancing one’s own standing, or as atonement sums for sins, costly gilded items bought from shops can be choices. Such practice of choosing readymade items of high value is seen among the elite and the royalty. However, such gifts are cold, detached and impersonal in nature.
Fourth Para … The practice of giving or receiving is a delicate job that needs careful judgement. Normally, a self-respecting man doesn’t receive gift except those coming to express genuine unselfish love. When one gives gifts in a condescend attitude, the person receiving it feels hurt and humiliated. He might show his displeasure overtly. So, gift-giving carries with it some risk. When we eat meat, we might feel guilty because the lamb might have been reared by someone else’s effort and investment.
Sixth Para … There is another risk attached to receiving gifts. If someone gives you a gift, you should make it a point not to take anything else from him. This is a golden principle f gifting. Our expectations from others is limitless. We expect all our needs to be given to us as gifts. Such expectation, borne out of greed and laziness, are degrading and need to be avoided.
Seventh Para .. Being able to receive gifts with dignity and grace is a virtue. We should restrain our feelings when receiving gifts. Overt expressions of joy or disappointment at the time of accepting gifts must be curbed. Venting such feelings hurts the person who gives the gift. When a gift arrives from a person who is unaware of or hasn’t bothered to know the likes and dislikes of his target, it causes more harm than good. This is so because it reveals the cavalier attitude of the giver. Gifts given as just ‘give-aways’ are vexatious, because the reason behind the gift is not mutual love or admiration. For the person receiving the gift, it is embarrassing to find that he adores the gift much more than the person who has given it.
The idea of ‘usefulness’ of a gift does not hold good when the giver and taker both are very intimate friends and are of equal means. In such a case a modest gift may be misjudged as a slight. The beneficiary might feel annoyed for having been given such a ‘small’ gift. The latter, driven by greed, might desire to be given a disproportionately large chunk of the giver’s assets. Not thanking the giver, he might even feel angry at him. It is better to keep away from such greedy, ungrateful, and mean people. One can even remain detached and unaffected on receiving a gift. The Buddhists behave with rare equanimity on being flattered or honoured with gifts.
Eighth Para … According to the author, the problem arises because the gift, in most occasions, fails to communicate with both the giver and the taker. When we do a job for a magnanimous person, the latter rewards you so profusely that you instantly become indebted to him. His generosity makes him a difficult man to be chosen to give a gift to. Since these altruistic people stand in readiness to do all they can for a friend in need, it is so very difficult to extend even a minor service to them. In our daily life we keep interacting with our friends. At times we do them good: at other times our deeds harm them. These things happen so frequently that seldom people come forward to thank us for our good deeds. Even if we are unable to render a service to someone directly, we can do collective good by sticking to moral and honest behaviour.
Ninth and last Para .. Love is all-encompassing and universally sought. In whatever manner gifts shrouded with love comes, we must accept it joyfully. One should not attempt to qualify such show of love. Some people are eminently placed to give us worthy gifts. Let us embrace these with pleasure. One can not pursue gifts and get them. They come on their own, unsolicited. When the charm of love is missing, no amount of gift, either in quantity or value, should be accepted by us. The author ends his essay saying that through his well-meaning advice, he received some intellectual satisfaction. Those who benefit from his sermons, but fail to thank him, he is morally bound to love them too.
[COMMENTS FROM READERS ARE WELCOME.]