I’m totally unfair about gift giving, and here’s why that might be okay

I’ll admit it. I’m woefully uneven to people in my life when it comes to giving. And that includes any kind of giving: birthday giving; holiday giving; graduation giving; giving when you call me on the phone and ask; giving when we’re at a restaurant and I’m deciding whether I’m going to pick up the tab, split it down the middle, or require that you pay for the extra appetizer, drink and dessert that you ordered and I didn’t.

And I don’t know that my unevenness has a specific algorithm, but it certainly is rooted in some sort of subconscious rubric that I haven’t yet committed to a spreadsheet. I’m sure it’s not unlike a Words With Friends scoring mechanism:

  • You called/texted me in the last month: 1 point
  • When you called/texted me, you didn’t ask for anything: 2 points
  • You got good grades on your report card (C’s are not good… let’s just be clear): 5 points
  • You are gainfully employed (a lemonade stand or any legal hustle counts): 10 points
  • You are generally thought to be a kind and good person: 3 points
  • You are nice to my son even when he’s driving me to drink (and I happen to be a non-drinker): 6 points
  • You babysit my children for free so I can sit in the car and take a nap: triple word score!

The problem with this algorithm is that this is the first time I’ve made it known and public. So when one sibling gets a $50 gift from me and another gets a $20 gift, they’re surprised. And more often than not, angry.

In many ways, it’s not unlike a will.

  • I decide during my lifetime who will get my money.
  • I neither communicate why or how I’m allocating my inheritance.
  • When I die, everyone sits in that cramped attorney’s office waiting to hear what they will receive.
  • When the announcement is made, some people feel like they have hit the lotto, and others feel like they’ve been robbed by a modern-day stick-up gang: Tanya & the Takers. Except it’s my money, so I didn’t officially take it from them. I just never gave it to them.

So why do I feel guilty that I do more for some people than for others? Should I eliminate all emotion from the equation, publish my Words with Friends matrix above, and ensure that everyone is clear on my giving criterion? Will that approach eliminate the surprise and anger, or just create debate about the inherent unfairness of my criteria?

Everyone gives according to their own psychology — mothers with babies asking for money on the street get more from me than single people. Obviously, there are thousands of charities in the world because of the clear marketplace for different causes that appeal to different people with different emotional pulls and attachments.

So maybe the question should not be: How much did you give, and to whom, and in what measure (equal or unequal)? And instead, we should ask, “Did you give at all?” As long as the answer to that is “yes,” the rest is up for you to decide.


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