Is It a Gift or a Demand?

There’s a scene in Hawkeye where one of the mobsters holding our titular hero hostage loses his cool on the phone. “What’s going on?” “I bought my girlfriend Imagine Dragons tickets for Christmas,” he says. “That’s so sweet!” “Well, now she told me she wants to go with her friend instead of me.” “Look on the bright side: Now you don’t have to go see Imagine Dragons.” And then, the mobster reveals the true nature of his present: “But I love Imagine Dragons!”

If you give someone tickets to a concert you really want to go to but that they don’t care much to see, you’re not doing them a favor — you’re making a demand. Not a demand on their wallet, perhaps, but a demand on their time, and that’s often worse.

The nature of a gift requires thinking about the recipient more so than about yourself. If you’re not ready to do that thinking, to practice real empathy, then both you and your connection will be better off without any offerings at all. If you do make the effort, however, what gift you choose will barely matter. They’ll be able to tell you thought about it, and that is enough.

While this is an important rule for Christmas, birthdays, and many other joyous occasions, it is also a good filter to run other people’s generosity through — especially in the world of business. Many people will offer you “great deals” which, often, turn out to be thinly veiled demands. “Did they really think about what I need here? Or does this benefit them more than it does me?”

Going to concerts together is a great bonding experience, but it’s also empowering to know your better half can step back and let you enjoy something they don’t understand in peace. Double-check your gifts before you give them, and don’t let anyone take advantage of you under the guise of generosity.