It is the season of giving. And the season of articles on giving.

As I reflect on the world of consumption that we have created and inhabit so thoughtlessly, I realised we need a fresh look at the idea of giving. But the more I read, the more I realised that the best perspectives have already been written. And  centuries ago.

I concluded that there is nothing original to be said on this topic. And that some simple curation was adequate.

There are links to a few articles and a couple of videos below. I strongly suggest you read them in full.  To make it easy, I have excerpted key ideas and phrases, and added just a  little of my own commentary.

The most thoughtful piece was this one from Darren Walker, the President of the Ford foundation. In his brilliantly empathetic piece, he says “… the purpose of our philanthropy must not only be generosity, but justice…”. And that “…Giving back is necessary, but not sufficient. We should seek to bring about lasting, systemic change, even if that change might adversely affect us…”.

His ultimate thesis is that “… the world may need a reimagined charter of philanthropy: a “Gospel of Wealth” for the 21st century… Philanthropy can no longer grapple simply with what is happening in the world, but also with how and why …  must fund people, their ideas and organizations that are capable of addressing deep-rooted injustice…”

This theme of questioning the modern way of giving, was also echoed by NYT columnist Anand Giridharadass at his brilliant speech at the Aspen Institute earlier this year.

On a more mundane plane, we all struggle with finding the appropriate gift to give. This brilliant article by Arthur C Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, is a great guide to finding the perfect gift. It ranges from the use of cash (the economist’s perfect gift) to what happens when you make a bad gift.

Critically, the article  reminds us of what we all know intutitvely “…. A wise lover values not so much the gift of the lover as the love of the giver. In other words, it’s the thought that counts…”.

The FT’s pop critic tackles the problem of finding a gift for the person who has everything, and in this memorable phrase sums up the banality of our lives  “… Fretting about buying presents for people who don’t need anything, who in turn are buying you presents you don’t need, is the ultimate first-world problem…

John Oliver has a brilliantly funny take on a common problem we all have faced…. re-gifting! No need for words, you’ll relate to it 100%!

The most provocative piece I read, which clearly shows how stereotypes and cognitive bias rule much of our views on things is this one from Tim Harford of the FT. Tim not only demolishes many myths around gift-giving, but clearly shows why Ebenezer Scrooge is under-rated in two ways. First, his self-denial  enabled others to enjoy more pleasures (yes, you heard right). And second, how in the end, he gave three superb gifts.

I will end with a piece from Brooks.  He cites Ralph Waldo Emerson’s  eternal wisdom “…The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me. Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, corn; the miner, a gem; the sailor, coral and shells; the painter, his picture; the girl, a handkerchief of her own sewing….”.

And concludes with this guide to the social science of gift-giving “… what the studies are telling us is actually simple: Try to give people what they value, but if you mess up, it isn’t a big deal to the people who truly love you. Above all, give of yourself, and share your faith and affection abundantly.

Gift less things. Gift your time. Gift of yourself.

Happy holidays.

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