When I was a little kid, I was very, very greedy. I feel like this is my natural state of being: a selfish person. I still notice my selfish behaviors when I'm not thinking or drunk; I do things like push past people, steal parking spots, interrupt people, etc. But over time I was able to forcefully modify my own behavior. From my early teenage years until recently, I've tried to decline gifts while giving generously, open doors for people, do favors whenever possible, etc. And surprisingly it worked. It's really a testiment to Aristotle's virtue ethics: you become virtuous by living a virtue filled life, aka if you force yourself to act good you will eventually become good. There's obviously still some problems of looking at generosity this way. I essentially began treating gifts like the Chinese culture does: an intense social game where you do whatever you can to throw your gifts at people while avoiding theirs. The only difference is I did it out of atonement for a childhood of selfishness instead of a long tradition of family honor and Confucianism, and I actually succeeded since no one else was playing the game.
The next change in my perception of gift exchange came senior year of college. One of the few things I enjoyed about my American Indian culture class was the perception of gift giving and recieving that many Plains tribes had. People would give gifts for no special reason, and could receive gifts without guilt or giving more than a simple thanks. Since everyone in society acted generously, the act of exchanging favors and goods wasn't special and didn't need to be forcefully evened out since the karmic forces of society would naturally balance out the generosity. I really like this attitude towards generosity. Now I'm no devout subscriber to karmic balance, but I approve of living a principled life the same way you would if the world was perfect. If I could receive gifts happily and give gifts happily to other people I will have a)acted virtuously, b)done my part to make a more generous society, and c)be able to enjoy gifts again and stop lying to my material loving nature. If those of you reading this are confused because I haven't been acting like a American Indian, it's because I don't have the means to participate in the second half of the gift giving equation!
I'm at a time in my life when I am very poor. I'm working an exhausting food service job full time that would barely allow me to live comfortably by myself, and I'm working for two. My wife is still in grad school and can't work enough to do anything except buy groceries once in awhile. And I'm ok with that. I'm ready, man. This is the time of my life that the Boy Meets World episodes "The Honeymoon is Over" and "Picket Fences" prepared me for. I have plenty of video games, books, dvds, the internet, and most importantly, the love of a wonderful person to tide me over for a couple of years until I can buy more things for myself again. I have the willpower to skip meals. I have the willpower to skip hanging out with friends when I have to. I have the willpower to not buy things for myself if I can't afford it. I have the willpower to ride my scooter through freezing rain to save money. I got that shit down pat.
The only problem is my friends. It seems like a lot of my friends are at a time in their life where they've started their careers and have some extra cash, or only have to provide for themselves so money's not as criminally tight. And some of them are in the same up-shit-creek boat as I'm in. The only problem is they're ALL TOO DAMN GENEROUS. In the past year I've been bought meals, drinks, brand new PC games, artwork, and minigolf games. I've been given Magic cards, old dvds, and used Gamecube games. And when I received them I of course responded like my old self, profusely trying to refuse the gifts. But that's only because I HAVE NOTHING TO GIVE BACK! I can't fulfill my end of the American Indian social pact! If I had some way of repaying my debt to either the giver or different people in my social circle I would, but I don't so I still fill tremendously guilty about receiving gifts.
I've already decided that when my wife and I have started our careers and we can help others, I will make it my mini-life's mission to help out young twenty-somethings like myself. But that's not for awhile. What can I do right now? This isn't a rhetorical question, I'm tagging a lot of the people who have already been so generous with me when I share this post on facebook. I want REAL answers from you guys. Surely my company alone isn't enough to pay you back (I may be delightful, but I'm not THAT delightful). Should I dance for you? Be your court jester? Draw you second-rate artwork? Let you get to second base? I'm out of ideas here guys, and I just want to now how I can make up all the kindness you've shown me because you deserve it.