Honoring Humanity In Everyday Life | About

Two Kinds of Gifts

It’s evening. Dinner is on the way. As we talk among ourselves, three men approach our table.

They’re dressed sharply in traditional Mexican attire and sport dark, thick moustaches. A sombrero rests on each of their heads. One carries an accordion, and the other two hold guitars.

Stepping up to me, the lead singer asks, “Can I play a happy song for you?”

I have nothing against happy songs, but something in his request strikes me wrong. So I say nothing.

The man asks around the table until someone gives the yes he wants. With a strum of the guitar, the band begins to play. Their music adds to the already wonderful atmosphere.

Three songs later, they finish their set. Their leader stands as if expecting something. The conversation at our table continues on, not noticing the group is still there.

“We play for your tips,” the leader says.

Someone in our group fishes out a twenty peso note (two dollars) and hands it them. The band head off to find another table to get money from.

Watching them go, I feel a touch unsettled.

I enjoyed the music. It sounded good and offered a lovely backdrop to our conversation at the table.

I understand their strategy. Playing off the human urge to reciprocate, they offer a favor and immediately ask for money in return. Such tactics work. They work really well.

And I don’t begrudge their need to make a living. They are still offering value. They are still giving in exchange for the payment. Who am I to cast judgement?

Still, I can’t help but feel an opportunity went missing. Lost was the chance to give a genuine gift.

The interaction with the musicians was transactional. One party gave and the other party felt obliged to respond in kind. This for that. One for one. The exchange was equal.

But as I continue to discover, there’s another way of giving. It’s possible to create an exchange where both parties feel they got the better end of the deal. Such gifts draw people together. They’re transformational.

The week before, my wife, daughter, and I stayed a little guest-house outside of San Jose del Cabo, El Delfin Blanco. The woman who did the cleaning and gardening took excellent care of us. She made us feel at welcome with her warm smiles. She told us interesting stories about the area. She played with our daughter. And that was above and beyond her regular work of taking care of the place.

It’s true she got paid for her time, and we did leave her a tip. But she did more than what was required for an even transaction. She gave us a gift, and it made our stay all the more wonderful.

Maybe I’m being unreasonable. Were the fellows at restaurant to adopt such an attitude maybe they’d never make any money at all. I can’t speak for them.

But as for myself, I know which mode of giving I want to follow. If that makes me unreasonable, so be it.