Thank you notes

My mother and grandmother always had us write those thank yous before the excitement was off the receipt of the gift.  The gift came with an obligation, even if it was that pair of slippers from my Great Aunt Alice (who had no idea what Mom had spent the money that she sent on.)  As I gained in maturity and experience, I found that I agreed more with the anthropologist Marcel Mauss and his ideas of gifts having a reciprocal energy.

The Exchange

In The Gift, Mauss argued that gifts are never free but are a reciprocal exchange. The question he asked was: “What power resides in the object given that causes its recipient to pay it back?”   He believed that the gift engages the honor of both the person giving and the person receiving the gift, and the gift and its exchange transcend the divisions between the spiritual and the material in a way that to Mauss is almost “magical.” The giver gives a part of him/herself along with the gift, for the object is forever tied to the giver.  “The objects are never completely separated from the men who exchange them.”

This connection between giver and gift, the act of giving, creates a social bond with an obligation to reciprocate. To not give back would be to lose one’s honor. Mauss saw three types of obligations: giving – the necessary first step for the creation and maintenance of social relationships; receiving, for to refuse the gift is to reject not just the gift but the social relationship; and reciprocating to show one’s own status and ability to share in return.

When everything is a commodity, then objects are sold, meaning that the ownership is completely given over to the new owner. The object becomes “alienated” from its original owner. In a gift economy the objects given are “inalienated” from the givers; they are “loaned rather than sold and ceded.” The identity of the giver is tied up with the gift, and that causes the gift to have the power to make the receiver give it or something back. They must be returned; the act of giving creates a gift-debt that has to be repaid.

To whom do I owe my gift-debt?

I see blogs as the ultimate gift economy.  People write; I read; I respond.  In a perfect gift economy of the blog, I write; someone reads my blog; they comment.

To my sister who reads my stuff no matter which blog it’s on and who has begun her own blog.  Thank you for being the person I imagine reading my blog

To Clay Burell, master storyteller and avenger against all things schooly.  Thanks for reading my posts and encouraging me to really write and reflect.  Your honesty in your own work is a gift that demands reciprocation.

To Paul C, at quoteflections.  Thank you for all your thoughtfulness and the time that you take to read and comment on my posts.  Your own blog asks me to reflect on living as well as the way I make a living.

To Antonio Viva, the first and only person to link to my blog.  Your class inspired my class, and the ripples from that project continue still.  It’s been very powerful.  Thank you.

I hope that in some way I can return your gifts to me.  Thank you.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Paul C says:

    Knowing that you read my disparate blog is thanks indeed.

    Also your occasional comment is a golden ray.

  2. Kate Tabor says:

    See, the reciprocal gift keeps giving. Instead of some gift relationships where the giving impoverishes the giver, in this one I am enriched. Thank you, again.

  3. cburell says:

    I’m glad you started writing. I guess thankful is the right word.

  4. Thanks for this great post. I noticed it when I read your comment on Clay Burell’s post on his experiences with race.

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