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Tony Grist

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An Unseasonal Truth [Dec. 14th, 2008|10:21 am]
Tony Grist
I'm sorry to say it, but Dickens was wrong. The Cratchitts would have hated the new, benevolent Scrooge even more than they hated the old, miserly one. You can't buy love by turning up on the doorstep cutting capers and waving a turkey by the neck. A benefactor- especially one there's no hope of repaying- is universally despised.

I've lost friends by being kind to them- and also because they were kind to me. Gifts- big one-sided gifts- can kill a relationship. Equality is replaced by obligation. Much better to sever the link than to be reminded every time you see a person's shining face that you owe them one. They say you should give anonymously so as not to reap the gratitude; I say you should give anonymously so as not to reap the resentment.

There are times when you have no choice but to give- because it's the only moral thing to do- but you shouldn't expect a reward. Rather the reverse.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: frumiousb
2008-12-14 11:25 am (UTC)
I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Esp. lately because we've been doing okay at a point when many of my close friends are really suffering financially. When the shoe was on the other foot, I received so many little kindnesses from people and the universe that I'd like to pay it back now. But there's real grace needed to assess the correct size of the assistance, and also to downplay any cost to you-- I notice that people resent help much less if it's something that you can do without much perceived cost (furniture that you give away instead of selling on the marketplace, for example).

(By the way, given that Scrooge was an employer, I think that the situation is different-- and that the change might have been justly appreciated.)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-12-14 03:49 pm (UTC)
Scrooge's status as Cratchitt's employer does complicate matters. Dickens is very interested in these relationships of benefactor/benefactee, employer/employee. Little Dorrit (which I've just been watching on TV) is full of them. At the very heart of the story is Mr Dorrit's "ingratitude" to his benefactor Clennam once he (Dorrit) comes into his fortune.

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[User Picture]From: sorenr
2008-12-14 12:16 pm (UTC)
I've some times felt really awkward if people have given me presents that were out of my league. There are a few differences, where i genuinely knew that the giver simply had a lot more money at his/her disposal than I did, hence making it less of an impact for them. I suppose that is always a nice perspective to put on things. In England my boyfriend earned quite a decent living (his Christmas bonus would exceed my annual salary), so I didn't mind that he gave me a 100-quid present and I gave him a 20-quid present in return (or that I lived rent-free in his flat while we were together), but there are numerous other cases where I've felt somehow intruded upon by an excessive present. Present-giving is a old, pre-contractual tradition, and somehow giving a present DOES include some kind of pressure on the receiver to return it in kind somehow.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-12-14 03:54 pm (UTC)
I was in an unequal relationship once where my friend had money and I didn't. Because he was paying for everything he built up a sense of entitlement. Bah, these things are fraught!

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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2008-12-14 01:04 pm (UTC)
Good point.

Maybe that's why anonymous gift giving feels so good - it is TRULY done out of the goodness of one's heart and no one is the wiser for it.

Gift giving is such a difficult thing. There's what you've mentioned. And then there's the other - let's say you've shared an experience with someone - and you see something that reminds you of your time together. You gift them with it, and then find out later that the person had no idea the sentimentality you invested in the object - and they tossed it. THAT strains the friendship, as well.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-12-14 03:59 pm (UTC)
Sentimental gifts are like hostages.

A friend gave me a picture once. He came to my house some years later and I could see he was looking for it- and was disappointed it wasn't there. What had happened was it had fallen off the wall and we couldn't afford to have the glass mended. I suppose I could have explained that to him, but it would have been awkward and I didn't.
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[User Picture]From: redatt
2008-12-14 01:31 pm (UTC)
[It's been a long while since I read A Christmas Carol, so I reserve the right to completely disown and deny saying everything I am about to write about it :~D]

I somewhat disagree in general about kind acts and friendship and partly because of that I disagree about it been more likely for Cratchits to hate Scrooge, but even if I agreed entirely about the former I'd still disagree about the Cratchits.

What Scrooge did for the Cratchits wasn't something the Cratchits were likely to see as being an unplayable act of kindness (or charity), it was, I think, certainly only what Mrs Cratchit felt they were owed in return for her husband's firm loyalty. Bob Cratchit was loyal to Scrooge even in the face of Scrooge's long harsh treatment of him, his wife's protests and his son's suffering, so really in one regard what Scrooge did at the end was only a down payment for what he owed the Cratchits and only what they felt they deserved.


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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-12-14 04:01 pm (UTC)
You've got a good point. Justice is more palatable than mercy. If the Cratchitts felt they were only receiving their due their feelings wouldn't have been so bruised.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2008-12-14 02:25 pm (UTC)
You may well be correct and I do take your point, but in Dickens's text, the burden falls upon Scrooge, not the Cratchitts. Whether they colectively loved him for it is not stated and largely beside the point, I think. Dickens says that Scrooge became like a second father to Tiny Tim and that he was as good a friend and as good a master as the Old City ever knew. This is all the story demands that the reader believe and that, I think, is enough.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-12-14 04:06 pm (UTC)
Perhaps I am making Dickens's fable carry too much weight.

I love Dickens very much- but I do think his conclusions are sometimes (in fact rather often) more sentimental than plausible.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2008-12-15 12:22 pm (UTC)
Isn't that what we love about Dickens? He is so very sentimental, writing in a very unsentimental age.

Then as now, the most implausible aspect of the story is that Scrooge could and did change for the better. Other more practical concerns must take a back seat to that. Even the visitation by Marley's ghost on Christmas Eve seems more likely, by comparison.

I'm more than a little sentimental about Dickens's tale myself, I'm afraid. It'a personal favorite, a story that is able to represent and inspire the spirit of the season without slopping over into maudlin religious sentimentalities. Quite an accomplishment.
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[User Picture]From: haikujaguar
2008-12-14 04:16 pm (UTC)
I think we are very invested in a myth that we are all self-sufficient and independent, and that we don't need one another to survive... and any time someone deflates that myth, we struggle. We want to be virtuous, and part of virtue is not dragging on other people's resources, or being a drain on society.

I think the other part of is is that there is no putting a monetary value on some of the intangibles that each person gives to others and society at large, and asking them to measure it against gifts, which often have a direct monetary value, causes a disconnect in the head (this happens to me frequently when I price art originals: what is the experience of art worth? The time it took me to paint it? The materials I used to create it? Is there any way to put a value on what, say, a book gives you when you read it?).


I have noticed ingratitude in myself and one of my current "things to work on" is learning to receive gracefully, knowing I will in turn be giving to others at some point but that to do that I need to accept help when it is offered. It is surprisingly difficult to receive compliments, gifts and help gracefully, and requires a great deal of humility and love for others.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-12-14 04:21 pm (UTC)
Human beings are proud. It hurts their pride to be in receipt of favours. They feel humiliated. Therefore, once they no longer need those favours, they cut their benefactors out of their lives. They can't bear to be around the person who has seen them at their weakest.

That's how it works I think. It's happened to me so often now that I'm ready to regard it as a rule of human nature.
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[User Picture]From: litchick
2008-12-14 04:26 pm (UTC)
Good post, so true. I've especially found these issues when I was single and dating. If I went dutch with someone, I would assume they weren't interested romantically, but I guess there were a couple of men who respected my independence, while I was waiting for them to be gentlemen and insist on paying, even just once. So much is tied up with money and what it signifies. It demarcates who has the power in the relationship.

I've always tried to be generous. I can't say that it always works out too well. Sometimes though, I think it's more that the relationship is on the edge anyway, and a generous gift just reveals the fissures. It's then that the person walks, calling your bluff in a way.

Expecting less from people is my strategy. When in doubt, give anyway, receive graciously, and when you can, pay it forward.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-12-14 08:46 pm (UTC)
Ah yes, bring sex into the picture and things get even more complicated....:)

I've reached a point where I expect ingratitude. I'm not saying it doesn't hurt- because it does- but I think I understand why it happens- and it's only a short step from understanding to acceptance. My strategy now is to give- and then withdraw.
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[User Picture]From: ideealisme
2008-12-14 07:28 pm (UTC)
I'd say your friend's behaviour has more to do with his character than your gift.

I'm sorry to hear of his(?) ungraciousness.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-12-14 08:31 pm (UTC)
I'm not talking about any one particular person. I think all but the very saintly or very humble feel stirrings of resentment against a benefactor. How dare he or she put themselves above me by being so fuckin' generous.

Actually I'm not being entirely honest. I do have one particular person in mind- but s/he is only the latest in a long line.
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[User Picture]From: ideealisme
2008-12-14 08:39 pm (UTC)
You do not strike me as the sort of man who would give anything with an attitude of smugness or with any strings attached, though, which is why I am wondering about the recipient.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-12-14 11:07 pm (UTC)
It's kind of you to say so.

But I don't think the attitude of the benefactor matters. People hate receiving gifts they can't return. It's humiliating. The giver could be a saint and they'd still resent him/her.
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From: (Anonymous)
2008-12-14 10:04 pm (UTC)
They say you should give anonymously so as not to reap the gratitude; I say you should give anonymously so as not to reap the resentment.

What does it say about me that I consider that worthy of the title 11th Commandment? I will never understand why some people insist on drawing attention to themselves, for whatever reason and by whatever means. Anonymity is vastly underrated in our modern world.
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[User Picture]From: solar_diablo
2008-12-14 10:05 pm (UTC)
I was going to apologize for not logging in while posting this, but it couldn't have been more appropriate now could it? But I'll uncloak anyway . ;)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2008-12-14 11:12 pm (UTC)
I used to live in a place called Reddish. The one time mill-owner had given all sorts of things to the town- and his name was plastered on everything. The Houldsworth memorial this, the Houldsworth Memorial that. He even made sure the church- St Elisabeth's- was named in honour of his wife. The townspeople- oddly enough- did not think of him fondly.
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