Misplaced Giving
Charity Gift Donations in Your Name


In case you haven’t heard, the next shopping season has begun.  It’s called the Nathan Callahan Birthday Shopping Season and it’s, understandably, one of my favorites. 

Gifts are good.  Especially when they’re thoughtful.  And by thoughtful, I mean that the person giving the gift made an attempt to see what it is that brightens your day and then put a bow on it. You’d think that would be relatively easy.  But it’s not.  It’s a skill set that requires engaged observation. There are some people who give gifts that they’d like to receive.  They weren’t looking in the right place.  There are others who will buy any gift that takes up space.  That’s not the way gift giving works.   A gift giver with talent has insight.  And don’t read me wrong, I’m not talking about insight into burning a tank full of money and I’m also not talking about insight into contributing to mindless consumerism, either.  Small is beautiful.  Oranges and walnuts are lovely gifts.  So are figs, a beautiful old stamp, a used book, a bit of origami, a poem, a pillow — perfect. 

Like I said, gift giving is a talent and a gift, in and of itself.  But that talent may be waning in our world.  Today, on the fringes there’s a marked increase in a segment of faux gifting.  It’s called Gift Donations In Your Name.  For example:  It’s my birthday.  A friend gives me a hug, says “Happy Birthday, Nathan” and hands me an envelope.  Since there’s no box or bag involved, I think I’ve been given a gift certificate — which, by the way, is a cop out gift.  A gift certificate says “I don’t have the time to figure out what makes you happy and frankly the concept of my putting any time into it is too much for me, so here, get it yourself.”  Anyway, a friend hands me a birthday envelope, I open it and there on the card is a photograph of someone less fortunate who is thanking me for my generosity.  It seems, unbeknownst to me, they’ve been given a gift from me — in my name — for my birthday.  Isn’t that nice of me.  No.  That’s bullshit.  I want to be generous on my watch.  Not when my friend, the so-called gift giver, feels that it’s time he needs to give to the less fortunate.

The popularity of this trend — Gift Donations In Your Name or G.D.I.Y.N.s or Ga-dye-ins for short — started in the touchy feely, but largely self-involved 1970s and experienced a “thousand points of light” surge in popularity during the Reagan-Bush years 1980 – 1991.  The problems of GDIYNs were briefly addressed in the 166th episode of the NBC television series Seinfeld.  George Costanza is given a GDIYN.  He is, understandably, offended.  Later, as a plot device aimed at pointing out the churlishness of Gift Donations In Your Name, George invents a phony charity, “The Human Fund,” and hands out Human Fund GDIYNs to his friends.  Being on Seinfeld is usually the death knell for things that are trendy — so I thought GDIYNs would die out of their own accord.  Unfortunately not. GDIYNs are making a strong comeback in the faux gift giving community. 

That’s why now, at the beginning of the Nathan Callahan Birthday Shopping Season I’m issuing a warning.  Gift Donations in my name will not be considered gifts to me, or for me, or in any way gifts.  They will be considered a misdirection of intent on the givers part — a case of psychological transference.  

First of all, these GDIYNs are not something the giver wanted to do for me.  They’re something the giver wanted to do for him or her self — something to assuage their guilt, while at the same time taking care of something they don’t know how to do — give a gift.  Secondly, GDIYNs are confusing. Giving someone else my gift seems to be saying that I already have everything I want or for that matter, need.  It then poses me with the problem of what to say to the giver.  Thank you?  Oh, I’ve always wanted one of these?   You shouldn’t have?  Well, you shouldn’t have.

Which brings me to the reason why people give Gift Donations in Your Name in the first place.  They’re trying to beat the gift giving system. They don’t want to be involved with gifts to friends.  Brightening your day isn’t a priority for them.  Letting you know that they have a charitable ethical code is.

It’s difficut to respond to the GDIYN givers ham-fisted act of transference by saying “That’s not a gift,” when they’re presumably helping someone less fortunate.  But I’ll say it.  Please don’t ever think that giving me a gift donation to someone else in my name is a gift to me.  Give that gift to yourself.  There now, isn’t that generous of me?

Anyway, please don’t feel that you have to buy me a birthday present.  A smile and a hug is really all I want.  But if you do feel inclined to buy a gift, my birthday is March 6th.  And you may begin shopping now.

— Nathan Callahan

First Broadcast December 30, 2011

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