The right gift at the right time can help forge closer personal relationships, smoothen business ties, and even change a person's life. How can we choose gifts that adequately convey our intentions and also please the recipient?
Life-changing GiftsBy Fuyuan Hsiao
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 441 )
All around the world, the Lunar New Year is the peak holiday gift-giving season for Chinese people, who shower millions of presents on friends, relatives and business acquaintances. Gifts are tokens of love, appreciation and friendly feelings. Behind each gift there also lies a story.
We can hardly imagine life without gift-giving. Sociologist Jacques T. Godbout, who teaches at the University of Quebec in Canada, concludes that gifts create bonds between people. Indeed, the sum total of humanity's social relations amount to a history of gift-giving. Gifts help cultivate existing relationships, but can also open up new ones.
The right gift can intensify friendships and also change mutual feelings.
Wen C. Ko, a leading Taiwanese venture capitalist and chairman of WK Technology Fund, has a moving story to tell about the exchange of two very special gifts between father and son. When his son turned 20, Ko gave him a letter as a gift. In it Ko wrote about his beliefs and values, and expressed the hope that his son would take to heart the fruits of his lifetime of experiences. He told his son, for instance, that he should seek to make many good friends, that he should look for admirable traits in other people and truly appreciate others. Then there would be no need to express a lot in words, because others would be able to feel his sincerity, resulting in long-lasting relationships.
Two years ago when Ko was jailed in connection with insider trading allegations, his son sent him a book by a Zen master titled Be Free Where You Are. It was the most unforgettable gift that Ko had ever received, because from it he learned all over again how to eat, walk, sleep and focus on doing his own things. It made his entire person more open and contented.
Gifts that You Give Yourself
If we present ourselves with a gift at the right time in times of confusion and frustration, this can motivate us to keep moving forward.
Colley Hwang, president of the newspaper and website Digitimes, admits that during the past few years he has felt a great deal of frustration over the chaotic situation in Taiwan and has been asking himself what he should do. He then remembered that Confucius said in The Analects, "When the country is on the right track, serve. When the country is on the wrong track, withdraw." So he gave himself a gift by buying a piece of land in his hometown of Yilan to live as a weekend farmer.
Hwang began to cultivate a 3,600 square-foot vegetable garden, returning once a week to tend to his fields. He brought back gifts of ginseng, which he gave to farmers in the neighborhood who had helped him irrigate and fertilize his crops. Hwang has by now become self-sufficient when it comes to vegetables. He has not bought any in three months, but instead enjoys the fruits of his own labor.
"The best gift that you could give yourself is buying a piece of land for yourself and facing it with a humble attitude," Hwang suggests.
Exactly how many gifts do we receive in a lifetime? No such statistics exist, but gift-giving contributes significantly to the capitalist economy. Six years ago the Walt Disney Company conducted a survey which found that Americans spend more than US$600 billion on gifts per year, which roughly equals the amount that former U.S. President George W. Bush spent on the bail-out plan to rescue the economy after the financial crisis of 2008.
Economist Joel Waldfogel of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School has been researching gift-giving for 15 years, and boldly claims that, except for a few items with a special meaning, gifts are a waste of resources. Last Christmas he urged people to refrain from buying holiday gifts, arguing that people value items they receive as gifts 20 percent less than those they purchase for themselves. Gift-giving is a poor way to allocate resources, he contended, noting that as much money is squandered on Christmas presents every year as is lost to government waste. In a speech in London, Waldfogel declared: "The way we celebrate Christmas around the developed world is with an orgy of value destruction that vaporizes $25 billion per year."
However, gifts have never existed to serve the purpose of creating economic value. What gift-giving creates are social values that cannot be quantified in monetary terms.
Gifts that Money Cannot Buy
Ruentex Group president Samuel Yin's most cherished gifts are religious scriptures, including a black leather-bound Koran, and a copy of the New Testament. From his mother, he received a Romanized Taiwanese version of the New Testament widely known as the Red Cover Bible. His most precious gift, a Bible that accompanied former Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui for half a century, is tucked away inside a sturdy white box.
Around the time the financial crisis hit Taiwan in late 2008, Yin went to see Lee Teng-hui at his private home in Dahsi southwest of Taipei, enjoying a pleasant conversation. Lee showed Yin around the basement where he keeps his memorabilia. The retired president prompted him to pick whatever he liked as a present.
But to Lee's surprise, all Yin asked for was one of Lee's Bibles that he had personally used in the past.
A little over a week later, Lee sent Yin the Bible that he had kept on his bedside table in his suburban villa in northern Taipei. It was the first Bible Lee used after his conversion, and it still carried an inscription that Lee had penned in his youth, which read: "On August 3, 1961, at 8:30 p.m. I dedicated myself to Jesus and will never turn back." The Bible had been read so much that its spine had been mended with adhesive tape to prevent it from falling apart. As he flipped through the pages that were lined with Lee's handwritten notes, Yin recalled that when Lee was president, he used to pray with his hand placed on this Bible before making any major decision.
"This is an important thing for the Republic of China. Imagine how significant it is. A thing like that can't be bought for money," says Yin. This gift represents the deep friendship between the two men, but it also has considerable historic value.
Gifts that Bring People Together
Francis Chen, chairman of porcelain and decorative gift maker Franz Collection, compares gifts to the God of Matchmaking. If the right gift is picked, the recipient will be moved, feelings will intensify, and the giver and recipient will establish a close bond.
"The most admirable gifts are those that inspire," muses Chen. Having made gift-making and gift-giving his profession, Chen is well aware that gifts need to strike an emotional chord.
Taiwanese film director Leon Dai will never forget the gift that opened his eyes to the world.
When Dai was little, his uncle, an elementary school teacher in Taipei, came to rural Taidong for a visit. He brought Dai a children's encyclopedia, which broadened his countryside horizons and stirred his curiosity for the wonders of the world. In hindsight Dai believes that this gift established his knowledge system, enabling him to view the world from many different angles, which later also came to benefit his filmmaking career.
Gifts that Smoothen Business Ties
In a business setting gifts mostly work as a catalyst, harmonizing relations between two parties that for the sake of making a profit usually pursue conflicting interests. Each time Telly Kuo, general manager of Asia-Pacific operations for digital projector maker Optoma, goes on a business trip abroad, he takes an oversized suitcase with him that is packed with gifts for customers and distributors across the region. Kuo woos South Korean agents with prize-winning Taiwanese teas, while he presents Chinese distributors with gifts of South Korean ginseng and takes back Maotai, China's most famous liquor, to customers in Taiwan.
Kuo recalls that when the financial crisis hit more than a year ago, South Korea was dealt a severe blow. So he chose as a gift for his South Korean agent a sculpture by the glass art studio Liuligongfang called "Boost," which portrayed a fighting bull. Speaking louder than words, the glass sculpture conveyed his message that the agent should not lose his fighting spirit amid the crisis. The agent was very moved and put the sculpture on display in the company's conference room, where it silently reminds everyone of the Taiwanese company's exhortations.
The Present Is the Gift
Even more than material gifts, people need symbolic gifts.
In his bestselling book The Present, Spencer Johnson contends that every person needs to find the special gift that makes his or her life and work happier and more successful. He stressed that the present is not the past and not the future, but now.
"When you want to be happier and more successful it is time to be in The Present moment," Johnson writes. "Look at what happened in the Past. Learn something valuable from it. Use what you learn to improve the Present." He suggests that people picture a wonderful future and urges them to "create a realistic plan to help it happen. Put your plan into action in the Present." That's the gift that we should look for in our lives.
Let's give ourselves an unforgettable gift as we celebrate the Lunar New Year!
Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz