Gifts, Not Exchanges

Interesting debate going on about charitable giving in the UK. The recent coalition government’s budget set a cap on the amount of money that people can give and get tax relief for…and charities have responded with concerns that this will reduce the amount of money they receive. In a weird parallel story, a supermarket have started selling simple blocks of wood with the single word ‘HOPE’ on them, to raise money for an Alzheimer’s charity.

The question these stories continue to raise are about what ‘giving’ should really be about. It seems to be becoming the norm that something needs to be gained in return for a charitable gift: whether that be a block of wood, tax relief, or the entertainment of a celebrity being humiliated in some telethon event. Bono’s ‘Brand RED’ has taken this to a whole new level: rather than give to charity and raise money for causes, we can consume for charity instead.

All of which seems… wrong somehow. Not in the true spirit of the gift, which is, ideally, something invisible, something where the ego gets nothing in return. In ‘Other’ I explore this ideal ‘contentless’ gift, and show how it is almost impossible to achieve… but it is an ideal we ought to aim for – to give not to feel better ourselves, or to reduce our tax, but to make sure the life of the other is improved.


2 responses to “Gifts, Not Exchanges”

  1. I get the railing against ‘consuming for charity’, but another possibility WRT (PRODUCT)RED is that something I was going to buy anyway (an iPod shuffle for my wife a few Christmasses ago) I could choose a slightly different version and also benefit a charity.
    I don’t think I’m likely to buy something just because it is (RED) or to buy (RED) because it is supporting a charity, but if it something I’m buying anyway, then to have the option to support charity through (RED) or indeed any other cause (charity christmas cards? charity calendars?) then it seems to me to have possibilities to be a good thing too.

  2. For me the wooden block story is less about exchange as you don’t get to keep the block, it’s put back on the shelf, and more about the wierd symbolism of chucking ‘hope’ in your trolley along with your eggs and baked beans. It seems to trivialise something very real and complex for the sake of convenience.