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September 4, 2015 / 20 Elul, 5775
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Why Do We Give Gifts?

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Dear Ann,

 

I am a well spouse on a fixed and limited income. My neighbor’s son, who is friendly with my son, invited himself over for latkes the first night of Chanukah. He is a teenager from a large family. He does have some learning difficulties and social problems. When I gave my children Chanukah presents, I could see he felt left out. I felt badly for him. I know that his parents do not give the children gifts on Chanukah. I called him over and gave him $20 for Chanukah gelt. I expected him to be pleased and excited.

 

I know he gets little in the way of money from home and needs to do odd jobs to earn the extras he may want. I was shocked when he looked at me and said, “Only 20 dollars?!” My face must have reflected my reaction because he quickly said, “Just kidding” and then gave me a swallowed, “Thanks.”

 

I was really upset and angry. Twenty dollars may not be much to him but it sure meant a lot to me. I won’t be giving him much of anything after this. My husband feels I’m wrong for feeling the way I do. He said I’m overreacting and I shouldn’t expect more from a teenager. Am I overreacting?


An Angry Neighbor

 

 

Dear A.A.N.

 

People give gifts for different reasons. Sometimes we give a gift because the receiver needs what we are giving him/her. Sometimes we give it because we know it will make the person feel good and brighten his/her day. Sometimes we give gifts because it makes us feel good about ourselves. But, I suspect, most often we give the gifts because of a combination of the three motives, and there is nothing wrong with that. The problem arises when our “make ourselves feel good” motivation backfires because we don’t get the kind of “thank you” we had expected.

 

What you did was very generous. You saw a boy who not only needed attention but the money, as well. You stepped up to fill the need. You certainly did not get an appropriate reaction. Further, it certainly was not the reaction you expected. Let me first say, very clearly, the young man was wrong to behave in the way he did. It was hurtful, unappreciative and totally unacceptable. Having said that, let’s deal with the question you asked, “Am I overreacting?”

 

First let’s deal with the issue of why you gave him the money. My guess is that you wanted him to feel good and like part of the family. You wanted him to feel cared about. You saw that he had needs, emotional and financial, that his family might not be able to meet and you wanted to help fill those needs.

 

    Clearly, despite his reaction, this was accomplished. It was truly a wonderful thing you did for this boy. My guess is that at this point in his life he may not have the maturity to see it. So, if these were your motives, you accomplished your goal. You achieved what you set out to do. Doing it again will accomplish the same thing. That should help you decide if you will do it again.

 

If, however, your reason (which I doubt) for giving him the gift was because you wanted him to be grateful and overflowing in his thanks, you did not get the result you wanted. Doing it again will probably not produce a more grateful response then you got the first time. So, you need to figure out your motive for giving him the money before you can determine if you are overreacting or want to do it again.

 

Now lets deal with some reasons for the boy to have reacted the way he did. Again, I am not excusing his behavior by any means, just trying to possibly understand it. You said that he was a boy who had social problems. He may have never learned how to appropriately react to gifts. Perhaps he did not know what to say or how to express his thanks. Maybe he felt uncomfortable. Perhaps your generosity made him feel sorry for himself.

 

Maybe what he was wrongly expressing was his wish to be in a different place, with his parents giving him what he needed. We can’t understand why people react the way they do. We often have a hard enough time understanding our own emotions. We certainly can’t control their reaction.

 

Think about why you gave the gift. Know that it had to make him feel good, and be pleased with the fact that you did what you felt was right. Mission accomplished. Only you can decide if you gave the gift because you wanted to make him feel good or make yourself feel good or both. Only you can decide if you will again.

 

You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com.

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