By Raju Mandhyan
SO I have had hundreds, if not thousands, of one-on-one conversations with senior expatriates who move into and, sometimes, out of our beautiful seven thousand, seven hundred islands. One of the topics that pops up is how the spirit of Christmas, in the Philippines, starts to sneak up on us as early as September and doesn’t leave us till, almost, the month of love.
In business, they ask, how do I prepare for all the gift-giving and gift-taking that is the norm and the culture here in this season? How many gifts do I get? How many people am I supposed to give and exchange gifts with? And, really, how should I discern how much to spend?
Now, it is not that there is no gift-giving and gift-receiving in other cultures and countries but we here in the Philippines take this thing to the next level and we, forgive my excesses, take this practice to the stratospheric levels and have fun with it too. It is one of the reasons why it is so much more fun in the Philippines.
I give them whatever little tips I think are sensible to me and I pray that it makes sense to them. I also think if we all put our heads together about this matter, we may be able to do a thesis on this and get away with being called a doctor of philosophy when it comes to gift-giving and gift receiving.
One of the chapters on our thesis might be about graciousness in gift-giving rather than the much, and frequently, talked about subject of graciousness in gift-receiving.
Many of us across the world and across diverse cultures, are taught, as kids, not to talk to strangers and also not to accept anything from strangers. Why not? Well, in most cases it was the fear that the weird-looking, weird-sounding stranger will drug, throw us into their bags and disappear into the woods or the mountains.
We all know that this really is not true. I have never met anyone who’s been drugged and kidnapped in such a way. Unless those kidnapped have never come back to tell us their ordeals. I’d like to think that most of us were scared by our mothers to instill the value of not taking what wasn’t due us and to prevent us from acquiring the habit of expecting things, and undue favors from others. I believe this is the general, big picture intention of this kidnapping “katha” and many other “kathas” like these. They are to teach us certain values in a story format.
What then is the thing to watch out for when receiving gifts?
The extremely subtle thing to watch out for while receiving gifts is that soft sense of obligation we feel towards the gift giver. Some selling professionals, no, some unscrupulous sales and marketing professionals use this manipulatively and label it the law of reciprocity. In the Philippines, the closest thing to that is called “utang na loob.” It is not just a thing but, in reality, a good value but when used with a hidden agenda becomes manipulation.
Now, that is the thing to watch out for when receiving freebies and gifts. But that is not really where I am heading to. I need to take us to understanding graciousness behind gift-giving more than practicing restraint and caution when receiving gifts.
Understandably, if there is that opportunity to become gently, softly and unconsciously obliged to those who do favors and give us gifts, that dimension when we give, we have a series of unspoken expectations from the recipients of our generosities?
Do we expect that they should follow a certain way; a certain decorum while receiving a gift from us? Do we expect that they constantly and consistently behave in a way with our gift, and around us because we have been nice and generous to them? Do we bicker about them not using or enjoying what we serve them?
If there is any sense, however minor, of us expecting something in return, then all our gift-giving and generosity is but a trade, an unarticulated exchange of tangible and non-tangible things.
That is the dark side of gift-giving and the law of reciprocity. Please forgive me Robert B. Cialdini, Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University. I know you wrote a whole, very popular book about this subject matter. I know your intentions are good but the impact gets twisted in the unconscious corridors of the individual and organizational mind.
And, as a wrap, just a week before the spirit of giving enters the “ber” months, may I suggest that do not just pause, but take a much longer and deeper pause before giving. In that moment of pause you can turn all your conscious and unconscious needs of retribution into authentic acts of contribution. A friend of mine from college days used to say, “Raju, do good and then drop the thought of having done good deep into the ocean.”
Give a gift and remember not to remember any-thing about it. You gifted it. It is gone from you. Literally, no strings attached.
Raju Mandhyan is an author, coach, and trainer.