The Obligatory Gift


This Christmas season has seen an addition added to my life. Not one in the form of physical manifestations, but one more of intellectual acquirement. I would normally say of a thing such as this as, “adding another wrinkle to the old gray matter.” So what is this new fangled thing? A phrase, and one that I truly have yet to grasp the full content of, because the words that create this phrase stand in such diametric opposition to each other as to nullify the result. At least in my head. The phrase is “obligatory gift”. To give you the full meaning of this phrase, I place it into the context of the sentence it was first introduced to me with: “They got me a gift, now I have to go out and get an obligatory gift in return.” Feel free to tilt your head to the side and look at the screen with a stupid expression on your face, I’m sure it would mirror the one that I gave to this person after stating the sentence above. Now, in case that didn’t make sense, lets move on to the definitions of the two words: Obligatory…

required by a legal, moral or other rule; compulsory.

Gift… 

a thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present.

Can anyone say…. oxymoron? I knew you could. Nullset I mean, seriously, how do you give something willingly that is required? It just doesn’t make sense. By proxy, wouldn’t the one counter the other, therefore nullifying the set? Ok, sure, I speak mathematically, but the point still carries weight, regardless, and by creating the null set you are left with something that can’t be. So, what is it at that point? It can’t be a gift, it can’t be an obligation and that keeps my head spinning in a manner in which I am not accustomed. It’s simple. A gift is a gift. An obligation is an obligation. It can’t be both and I know someone out there is saying something along the lines of “it’s the same difference” which just leads me on a completely different tirade about how things that are different can be the same other than the fact that they are different… and that circle ends up eating itself in a manner akin to the World Serpent of old Norse mythology. So don’t go there. Just don’t. Just don't I have this old phrase I try pretty hard to live by and it goes, “Don’t rob me of a blessing.” Simply explained, don’t require of me something I would do for free. Obligatory gifting falls into the ‘robbing’ category, except instead of stealing from someone else, you are taking away your ability to be a blessing by making it a requirement. I think that made sense. In my head, (which I give you is a dangerous place on a good day, and a fall down the rabbit hole on bad ones) when it comes to gifting, it’s pretty simple. You give someone something you want to give them. There is no obligation, even one of the social graces sort. If I get you a gift, it’s because I wanted to give you something. There is no string attached that requires you to return the gift so don’t feel like you have too. If you want too, that’s fine. Then by all means, be the blessing. Otherwise.. this whole obligatory gift thing… well, Inigo says it best… YOLO

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5 thoughts on “The Obligatory Gift

  1. I have friends from Asia and it’s ingrained in some cultures there (from what I understand) that if someone gives them a gift then they are obliged to give the gifter something of equal or greater value back. Not necessarily monetary value, but… well, it’s difficult to explain. Same with insults. It’s like they have a tally in their heads of who and what they owe. That’s just the way they are. It’s not the way I was raised, but obligatory gifting seems to have seeped in from somewhere.

    When I saw your title, I thought you were going to talk about gifts people felt obliged to gift like to the mailman, the paper carrier, Fred in accounting (even though we’ve never met Fred in accounting), or whomever! When I was a kid, we gave gifts to family and close friends and didn’t worry about these “obligatory” gifts to everyone and their uncle for fear of insulting them because we forgot to give them something.

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