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Posts Tagged ‘exchange’

Well, the Christmas season is over and perhaps this should have been a post for before the Christmas gift giving season, but it’s a topic that came up a few times after Christmas rather than before, so I thought I would write on it now.

Christmas is the season of giving!  We get bombarded by all sorts of altruistic phrases, greetings, cards, songs, TV Specials, movies, plays, etc. all talking about the spirit of giving.  So what in the world could selfishness possibly have to do with Christmas?  Well what doesn’t it have to do with giving gifts at Christmas?

What am I talking about?  Well, let’s step back a second and consider some worn out Christmas clichés that people often bemoan this time of year.  How many times have you heard the line about getting a ‘tie again’? (or fill in any other item that you have too many of already and therefore don’t need)  Or worrying about what to get for someone that ‘has everything’ or ‘needs very little’?  How many times have you worried about whether or not someone will ‘like’ a present or even something as simple as whether or not it’s the right size/color/style, etc.?  And of course, since it is after Christmas, we are all more than aware of the returns and re-gifting that goes on, and most of us don’t want to find out that something we gave ended up there!

Well, if it’s about the giving, why should any of that matter?  Sure, part of the Christmas spirit is accepting any gift graciously and showing appreciation.  But I’m not speaking from the receiving side.  I’m talking about the concerns people have when gifting in the first place.  And the magic word is in the last sentence of the prior paragraph: ‘want’.  Most of us want to get something that the people we are giving the item to will actually like or be able to use.  i.e. something of value.

And value is the important thing to consider here.  Unless we are a completely braindead altruist, we are generally giving to people (or in some cases charities) that we value in the first place.  Our giving is an expression of our appreciation from us for the receiver in some way.  And we not only want to give them something, but we want that something to be of value to them.  We want them to like it, to be happy, to have something useful, to improve their life or their emotional state in some way.

Why do we want that?  Because of the value the person has to us.  Because it makes us happy in return to know we could do something of value for them.  And that is another important phrase: ‘in return’.  It is an exchange.

The spirit of Christmas does not have to be a notion of thankless giving nor should it be.  The act of giving, and giving real value – value that is important to the receiver of the gift beyond the act of giving itself is a selfish thing and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

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Originally posted on Facebook Notes

A lot of the topics I discuss hinge on the principle of ‘value’. A topic that seems simple enough but that requires further clarification because ‘value’ is a very subjective concept.
Since I am often speaking about – or at least from – an objectivist standpoint, value plays a very important role in that one of the key tenets of Objectivist philosophy is that any interactions between men, to be ethical and moral, must involve an equal exchange of value. So what is value and how do we define it – especially in the case of these interactions? In this case, the value is relative to each person involved in the exchange – i.e. they must mutually agree that what they are giving and what they are receiving in such an exchange is a worthy exchange of value.

To demonstrate this fact I often use an analogy, interchanging the nature of the allegory to suit the circumstances and to better suit the audience. The most basic form is essentially as follows:

Imagine that at some point in your life, someone you care about and have great admiration and respect for offers you a gift. Perhaps you are seeking your first job or leaving home for the first time, and this person you admire – for example your grandfather – hands you a copper penny. You ask them “what is this for?” and they tell you that when they were first going out on their own, their grandfather handed them a penny as a gesture to get them started. They explain to you that they carry that penny with them always and even go so far as to pull out their wallet to show it to you and you see the tell-tale circle worn into the outside of the leather to back up the claim that he always had it with him.
You too carry this penny with you until you find that first job and continue to carry it with you always as a reminder of your grandfather’s gesture to teach you a lesson or show you support when you got started.
How much then is that penny worth? To everyone else it is worth $0.01 but to you it may be something with a sentimental attachment that you would not give up for all the money in the world.

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