We experience modernity, me, you, the people around us. We live in modern times and let ourselves be seduced by modernity with its air of liberation. It frees us from our obligations, our relationships, our ties. Modern society allows us to live alone, if we wish, it allows us to have no children, to “choose” our own family… The market gives us the ease of leaving a relationship we do not appreciate and we can readily look for another one without being judged.
In the blink of an eye, modernity and all of its liquidity may seem charming, yet we need to reflect on who we are becoming, what our role is in this liquid sea, and how we can maintain our essence in a world where we are becoming increasingly dependent on products and freeing ourselves from our ties. I propose using gift theory as a mechanism for maintaining and developing new ties — rather than getting rid of them.
Have you tried sitting next to a person on a bus, plane, subway? Most people are “interacting” with their luminous rectangles — as the writer, Alex Castro would say. I suggest that you sit next to a person who is not “busy” and give your attention to him or her. Yes, your attention. In such a modern world, I propose that our attention is an endangered gift. At first, a person may not understand behavior or be bothered about it, not because they do not like your gesture, but simply because they are no longer used to receiving it.
I once sat next to a lady and we talked for almost an hour as the bus drove from downtown to our homes. Arriving at the end, she was so grateful that I have to confess that I was a little embarrassed, “You’re welcome,” I said. In this case, it was a gift between strangers whose freedom is big and there is a very small, almost nonexistent, obligation for that lady to repay to me the happiness I caused her. There is not always a return, at least not a market return, as we are used to, the gesture itself was the gift and the gift itself was the return. As we begin a new cycle: giving, receiving, and returning, we break the daily isolation into which we stand and begin to feel our own identity.
In the marketplace, we are free every time we pay our debts. The gift seeks debt not freedom. The imbalance between giving, receiving, and returning is what keeps the spiral or cycle going, seeking spontaneity rather than duty. As an example of duty and spontaneity, we can talk about taxes. At first, it may seem like a gift, “I’m donating a portion of my salary for the state to help those who need it most.” Let us not be fooled, the tax is an obligation and not a gift. We break the principle of spontaneity and also, the sweet illusion puts us in comfortable positions. Rather than spreading gifts, it gives us the false sense that the state is already doing it for us.
In modern times, I conclude by encouraging you to practice gift theory, be it a blood donation or a few minutes of your attention.