Saturday, 2 December 2017

A Whisky Christmas - “It’s not the gift.” -  A few reflections on the process of giving.


                                                                   "The Mission"

The planning was over. He'd managed a little overnight sleep but in those early morning, winterchill hours the mission was uppermost in his thoughts. The timing had to be perfect, the site was confirmed, the car had been checked over, the targets had been researched, identified, and their locations within the building checked and rechecked. He knew which one to hit first, clinical, swift (but not too rushed), in/out, and on to the next target. He'd estimated that he could complete within 45 minutes. His military training was non-existent and he was relying on his distant memories of venture scout activities to provide him with the focus for what was to come. The 20 minute car journey was uneventful; he parked some way off from the entrance to the building, thereby lessening the chances of getting caught up in the anticipated bloat and heave of traffic when making his escape. Despite the crisp, clear, surgical cold of the December morning, a bead of sweat traversed his left temple.

It was 8.24am....he was three minutes ahead of schedule, a few punters, some shuffling, some striding purposefully, populated the vast space and the sound of metal shutters being raised, together with the drone of a floor cleaning machine offered an ironic counterpoint to the waft of cheery music that permeated the cavernous interior. There it was, Target 1, shutters slowly rising, the interior well lit, only two members of staff visible but that was OK, manageable. His pace quickened as he approached, he was in! Breathing a little shallow, voice a semi-tone higher than normal, he braced himself for the first hit ...“Do you still have the handbag that was advertised on the telly?", a nod of confirmation from the smiling attendant, he reached inside his jacket for his weapon....."Is that a credit or debit card Sir?".....and there it was, present 1 acquired, in the bag, both literally and metaphorically.....and now for Target 2!


Over the years many of us will have had a range of experiences when it comes to buying, giving and receiving gifts; from positive, slick, exciting experiences to stressful, disappointing, and exhausting experiences (with everything in between) .... and now we are here, at the sharp end of the "gifting" year, Christmas. I'll come back to Christmas a little later, before that, let's reflect a little on some surprisingly complex processes associated with "gifting". I might add at this point that, until recently, I wasn't aware of the word "gifting" as a verb but such is the beauty of language evolution.

Why do we give gifts? On the surface the answer is a simple one, we give them because we think they (whoever the recipient is) will like it; it will make them feel good or better in some way shape or form. This may well be true but it's only part of the process. One might argue that we give gifts because "giving them" makes us feel good. From St Paul "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35), to Albert Einstein, "The value of a man resides in what he gives and not what he is capable of receiving", the value and virtue of giving has been extolled over the millennia. Consider the last time you gave a dear friend or loved one a gift, the look of joy on their face, the smiles, the eye-contact, the warmth in the voice, the connection with them in that moment; it made you feel good didn't it? This doesn't mean that giving is a selfish act; it simply means that giving can be a reciprocal act of shared enjoyment, and as such, a moment to be savoured. The giving and receiving of a gift represents an emotional bond, the depth and complexity of which will depend on the relationship between the two parties, but make no mistake, the experience has an emotional/feelings component. 

                                                                         "The Gift."

When Princeton alumni, Van Dyke (Henry not Dick), wrote that "It's not the gift, but the thought that counts" was he on to something? What prompted such a sagacious statement? Was it some well thought through apologia to an acquaintance for whom he had purchased something that, on reflection, was a little "cheap" or a tad inappropriate? Was it a statement made after betraying his reactions to an odd gift from a dear friend? "I'm sure that when I purchase a sheep, the shears will come in very handy.....but anyway, it's not the gift, it’s ......" Let's consider this more closely; it's clear that if the gift is so way off beam, so out of touch with the recipient's world, then either not enough thought has gone into it, or the giver has little or no understanding of who you are. On the other hand, if the gift says more about the giver than the receiver then there is the potential for misunderstanding or disgruntlement. A well chosen gift is an expression of mutual empathy, a demonstration of our ability to connect to the affective/emotional state of another.

How often do we really try to empathise, to put ourselves in another's position; to lose our "self" in search of an awareness of someone else's world? Is it possible that our like and dislike of a gift is not primarily to do with the gift itself, but either consciously or unconsciously, to our belief that the giver either understands or does not understand elements of who we actually are? A well-chosen gift says "I know something of you and your world and I think that you might like and/or value this" An ill-chosen gift might say many things - "You don't know me at all", "You are giving to me what you really want for yourself", "You've been too busy to think of me" and so on. This doesn't make buying a gift a minefield; it simply suggests that we might need to dedicate time to a consideration of what the other person might really want. Done properly, the rewards for both parties can be profound.

                                                                "A Whisky" Christmas."

So then, let us briefly consider the Christmas experience. As a psychologist, the prospect of a red Santa, squeezing his way down a narrow chimney and emptying his sack over the floor leaves little room for manoeuvre within my Freudian imagination, but to confine Christmas to the reductionist unconscious would be churlish. It can be more, much more than that. Regardless of the religious connotations (which are well-documented), and attempts by the marketing machine to wrestle our free will to the ground, this time of year represents an opportunity to connect with those close to us and also to wider community. Yes, we could be doing this all year round, but, much like New Year's Day acts as a prompt for new ways of being, Christmas could act as either a prompt or a reminder that "giving" can be a mutually rewarding experience.

As a gift, whisky can be a truly wonderful choice. There are so many potential meanings behind the choice of whisky that you may buy for someone; a whisky that represents a first meeting ("Our eyes met across a crowded room at a … insert your favourite distillery here… tasting!"), a whisky that has a deeply personal resonance (a "birth" whisky - one distilled on or near the recipients birthday), an anniversary whisky (marriage date, length of time together etc), a whisky distilled in your favourite getaway/holiday location, a whisky who's flavours remind you of a particular time (Christmas notes, Caribbean notes etc), and so on.

A well-chosen whisky gift is not necessarily about how expensive it is, or how rare it is (I recognise that the two often go hand in hand), but is about the connection between the dram and the person who will be drinking it.

Slainte & (if you celebrate it) Merry Christmas!