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This page discusses our views on gifts and presents, including both gift giving and receiving gifts.

Much of our discussion has centered around the culture of giving and receiving gifts, and the expectations and social pressure associated with gift giving.

Unwanted gifts and social pressure

When giving gifts, avoid placing social pressure on people to keep or use a gift, or express appreciation for it.

This practice flows from our beliefs, which specify that in a healthy state, people communicate honestly, that people take responsibility for their own actions, but not for outcomes beyond their control, and that people are not coerced into doing things that they would not do of their own free will.

When you give someone a gift, you do not control how the person responds to the gift. If you place social pressure on people to express appreciation for a gift, and the person does not want or like the gift, you can encourage or promote dishonesty by encouraging people to express appreciation that they do not genuinely feel. You can also encourage people to keep a gift that they do not want to keep. These social pressures can be viewed as a form of coercion, and are thus.

Our beliefs about responsibility can help think about gift giving in a healthier way. When giving a gift, your responsibilities are your choices in selecting and giving a gift, but you do not control, and are not responsible for how someone responds to the gift.

Expectations of gift giving

In some circumstances, people can feel pressure or obligation to give gifts. This pressure can take different forms, from explicit social pressure, to a vague sense of obligation which may stem from internalized teachings or social messages that the person was presented with earlier in life. Some examples of situations where people may feel these obligations include:

  • People feeling obligated to give gifts to all family members or close friends, for holidays or birthdays.
  • People in a workplace feeling obligated to give gifts because gifts are being given.
  • People feeling obligated to give a gift to someone, in response to receiving a gift from that person.
  • Non-profits giving small gifts, such as address labels, in tandem with solicitations for donations. This can lead people to feel an obligation to give money in circumstances where they would not of their own accord.
  • People feeling obligated to give gifts of a certain material value, because they have received such gifts, or because others are giving such gifts, in circumstances where they would want to give a gift of their own accord, but without spending a similar amount of money or effort on it.

People may eagerly participate in events or traditions of gift giving of their own initiative, and these events or traditions can be positive, but we would consider it important that people participate in these traditions by their own choice.

We would consider it unhealthy for people to promote or encourage a sense of obligation to give gifts, except in the case that a person has consented to participate in some sort of relationship where gift giving is expected. For example, we would consider it unhealthy for a person to give a gift with the expectation of receiving something in exchange, unless it is in a specifically-organized gift exchange.

The organizational policies of Why This Way expressly forbid the giving of gifts with the intention of influencing people to give money.

Expectations about the cost of a gift

In some situations where gift-giving is expected, there can be an expected a price range for the gift. Sometimes this price range can be expressly spelled out, such as in a voluntary gift exchange, but more commonly it is a vague expectation, like a cultural expectation or a sense of obligation that one or more people may have internalized. Often the expectation is for people expect to exchange gifts of equal monetary value.

This sort of standard or expectation can have several drawbacks:

  • It may put financial pressure on people who can't afford to spend as much money.
  • It encourages unnecessary spending and use of resources. For instance, people may be more encouraged to spend a lot of money than to find a good deal on an item.
  • It evaluates gifts on a linear scale of cost, when a gift may have value in several ways.
  • When the price range is not explicitly stated, but people feel like they need to spend an equal amount, people may worry about how much to spend on the gift.

In some cases, there can even be a culture or practice of escalation of costs for gifts, such as when people give progressively more expensive gifts. This can give the appearance of a competition to "out-do" previous gifts, which can worsen some of the problems described above.