So Christmas has rolled around again and I am starting to feel uneasy about a little unresolved conflict that has been slowly developing over the last decade or so… what do we do about gift giving?
I know I am not the only one facing this dilemma, but for those of you without this problem, this is what it looks like in my family:
- I would prefer to spare the earth’s resources and not give and receive gifts at all but this has not caught on.
- One of my sisters gives practical, sustainable presents – but I’m not sure everyone receives them in the spirit they were given.
- Some of my brothers and sisters travel from interstate or overseas. They may be concerned about their budget (and how much they must pack and take on the way home).
- Some want presents given just to kids. Those without kids don’t see this as fair.
- Some want their kids to have less presents as receiving a whole load of presents can be over-stimulating and can remove the focus from family time to competition.
- Some enjoy the tradition of the tree surrounded by an absolute sea of presents and than watching everyone unwrap their gifts.
That is just the tip of the iceberg. With eight in my generation plus spouses, and eleven in the next generation, a consensus seems unlikely. But it is a really important issue to me and one I don’t want to give up on.
So now I’m preparing to start the conversation again for next Christmas and looking to use nonviolent communication to do this. Because there is an emotional charge around the conversation, the first thing I need to do is create space for empathy by considering what needs and values might underlie the various feelings and strategies around gift-giving.
Human needs of those who want to give and receive gifts
What values are people wanting to establish and maintain by giving and receiving gifts? What needs are they wishing to express? I came up with the following possibilities:
Connection, belonging, fun, love, joy, & self-expression
Human needs of those who are seeking an alternative to our current gift-giving practices
What values are people wanting to establish and maintain by not giving and receiving so many gifts? What needs are they wishing to express?
I came up with the following possibilities:
Sustainability, love, ease, peace, & self-expression
When I look at these lists I feel a bit more connected to those in my family who have different opinions to me. I can see that this is not an either-or situation – it is possible to belong to both groups. It is even interesting to see that the lists have love and self-expression in common.
a conversation guided by nonviolent communication principles
There are many nonviolent communication resources that can help resolve a conflict. I’m working my way through the ONGO Book at the moment, so I will try out the pattern they suggest. This looks something like
When I see|hear|experience ….
I feel ….
Because I would love to be have|experience ….
Would you consider….
So I might start a conversation like this:
When I see all the Christmas presents piled under the tree and imagine all the paper and plastic wrappings that must be thrown away, I feel uneasy and sad because I’d like to do Christmas in a way that is warm and fun and does not create a lot of waste – and I have not figured out a way to do that.
Do you think we might do Christmas a little differently next year so that we can have fun and be kind to the environment?
I was going to add a list of strategies we might consider BUT it would totally undermine the conversation if I was to come prepared with all the answers. I need to slow down and let any answers (if there are any) arise in the conversation.
More on the ONGO Book
This really seems to be an excellent resource. There is a whole rich, deep element of being connected to your body as you go through this process that I have not written about. If you are interested in nonviolent communication I recommend you get a copy. Maybe for Christmas 🙂
Catherine Cadden & Jesse Wiens (2017) The ONGO book: Everyday nonviolence.