(Epistemic status: Semi endorsed – haven’t tried it myself but it seems like a resonant idea)
In the spirit of the holiday season, I’ve decided to create a gift-giving guide from a narrative perspective. This heuristic should resolve all issues of “What do I get this person?” It’s convenient in that if you can’t actually complete the exercise I’m about to propose, you’re probably not close enough to that person to really waste any effort on getting them a thoughtful gift – get a gift card or cash or something, the relationship is clearly transactional. However, for someone close to you, a family member, a friend a lover, it can sometimes be challenging to find the right gift that actually means something. To remedy that, I propose a ritual that channels the feeling of the relationship into whatever gift you are giving.
The basic idea is fairly simple – consider how this person makes you feel. Sit down, get comfy, breathe slowly and calmly and get yourself into a meditative space. Spend 5 minutes thinking about this person, what they mean to you, what you’ve shared together, and focus on the affect this is bringing you. Feel the nuance and shades of it – perhaps you love your best friend, but it is a little annoying how they’re always late to things. All of that feeling needs to be recognized and felt. This will get you in the right mindset for the next part.
After you have the affect of your giftee, the memories and feelings that make your relationship unique, consider yourself in a certain role. Pretend you are a witch, or magician, or some sort of occultist. Consider what sort of talisman you would use to evoke the feeling of this person for you – what object would resonate _most_. If the occult is an uncomfortable frame for you, then consider yourself an author, writing a book about this person you care about. What is the object that is always with them, that they don’t already have? What is their signature? Consider what matches the emotion and character you get from them and focus on that object. Maybe it’s something very specific but out of your reach, or they already have it. Go more abstract – catch the idea of the focus object. Perhaps you have something abstract but not cohesive – make it more specific and personal. Focus in on what is reasonable to give someone that conveys this packed emotion you’ve just generated in yourself.
The last part is, write the story of how they’ll receive the gift. What questions will it raise? What conversation will you have? The point isn’t the material object you’ll give them, but what experience it will generate. What can you talk to them about by giving them something that represents your inner experience of this person? Maybe it’s nothing – maybe they receive it with a thanks and move on. That’s ok. Maybe it will involve a long conversation about something dear to you that you want to relate to them. That’s ok too. The idea is to be prepared for the experience and then go in and experience it. Give them the gift – the resonance you’ve written is meant to touch the heart in ways that wish lists and cash just don’t approach.
Overall, narrative gift giving is an exercise in care signaling. It’s not something to take out for every single gift you have to give – but for people who like well thought out gifts, who actually care about what a gift giver is trying to say to them, this can resonate in ways that they may never have experienced before.
Discussion Questions – This might be posted a bit late to be legitimately applied by anyone, but if you managed to try this, how did it go? If you didn’t try it, do you think it’s an approach that might help with people who are difficult to give to? How do you normally give gifts? How would you modify the approach to accommodate you own circumstances and relationships in life?