The Gift, a book by Lewis Hyde, just celebrated its 25th anniversary this past year. Years ago, it was recommended to me by a college friend. It is described on the back of the book as "an inquiry into the place of creativity in our market-oriented society. Starting with the premise that the work of art is a gift and not a commodity, Lewis Hyde's revolutionary book ranges across anthropology, literature, economics, and psychology to show how the 'commerce of the creative spirit' functions in the lives of artists and in the culture as a whole."
The book goes from describing the gift-giving cycles of tribal communities where the richest man is the one who gives the most away and gifts are continually passed on, to the role of gifts in fairy tales, to the gifts of the modern artist. In a society where personal worth is commonly defined by the money one makes and we are driven by consumerism, it is refreshing to remember the value of the gift. Giving: acts of selfless love, and gifts: works created out of love, have life beyond commodities and things.
In these difficult economic times, it is interesting to see the success of Etsy as a new company, and a return toward valuing the hand-made and one-of-a-kind over factory-made. This is seen also in food: valuing home-made over shipped in and heated up, and preferring foods that are "organically grown" and "farm-fresh" over chemically enhanced or processed foods. Are people growing wary of fast-paced production, and more skeptical of the 'canned' identities promoted through advertising? Are our compressed communications with one another making us more isolated, and is that isolation driving us to seek reminders that we are human, and that the people around us are also human? Does art, created out of something as spiritual and intangible as imagination, offer a bit of the evidence of humanity we are looking for?
Thank you, to whoever drove to our house on Friday night, shoveled the sidewalk right in front of our house, and the walkway and steps up to our porch, and then hopped back in their car and drove away in the snowy night, without even knocking on our door to receive thanks and praise for their deed.