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Photo by Les Anderson on Unsplash

Gifts that never stop giving

You’ll save on wrapping paper

Jeffrey Denny

Yep, it’s the holiday season again, time for festive cheer and wracking our brains for perfect gifts for loved ones.

Especially if they already have iPhones, which really is all anyone wants or needs.

We can ask, “What would you like?” But then upon receiving the list we’re just running errands and likely getting the wrong items, versions, colors or sizes.

Giving gift cards and saying, “Buy yourself something you like!” is making the gift receiver run the errand.

Making a donation to a cause our loved ones support is patronizing and says, “I care more about climate change than your selfish need for more capitalist planet-destroying stuff made by enslaved and starving children.”

If the donation is to a cause they oppose, it can be a funny practical joke. Especially when the NRA subsequently sends the gift receiver 25 urgent emails a day warning that it needs more money because it’s broke and your Second Amendment right to carry an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon with a 100-round magazine and bump stock into a grade school to spray bullets and protect our country from Hillary’s liberal tyranny is at risk.

Gifting is hardest when people complain they already have too much stuff they can’t use — books unread, clothes unworn, ugly jewelry tucked back in a drawer, small appliances such as yogurt makers used twice and shelved, toys ignored because the kids all have iPhones, which are more fun.

What to do? As my generous gift to readers, I suggest these gift ideas that loved ones are sure to cherish:

Put the iPhone away.

Talk with your friends and family. Not at, with. With full attention, eye contact and listening ears.

If you can, for 15 minutes or more at a single sitting.

No sneaking a peek at the iPhone (or the sad Samsung) just because it pinged. Or in the middle of a conversation, whipping out the phone to Google a famous actor’s name that’s just at the tippy tip of your tongue (e.g., Malcolm McDowell).

Don’t debate — discuss.

In person, online or — gasp — talking on the phone.

We all have our incredibly informed and thoughtful views, unerring gut sense, validating sources and confirmation biases and motivated reasoning where we only see and rely on selected facts that “prove” we’re right.

But it’s more respectful and more interesting to probe and understand views we don’t share. We’re not going to change anyone’s mind anyway — why not see if they can open ours?

And if their views are stupid, silly and insipid, who cares? So are aging episodes of the insulting “Seinfeld” ripoff “Friends,” and Netflix inexplicably just paid $100 million to license the show, more than tripling the $30 million it paid before. AT&T also will stream Friends.

None of my friends — real and/or Facebook — have ever nor could ever make me want to ice-pick lobotomize myself like a single episode of “Friends” or just hearing the jingle (“I’ll be there for you”) can do.

I’d rather hear from friends I disagree with than see that vomitously disagreeable sitcom. You’d have to Clockwork Orange me. (Google “Malcolm McDowell”.)

Forgive me. I digress.

Stop being defensive.

We all do it: A loved one raises an issue. Our first impulse is to defend, deny or deflect with a whataboutism, as in “What about the time when you…?”

We might be right, or feel picked on, or believe the complainant is wrong, unfair or misunderstanding our amazing selves. We want to set forth the facts as we know them and set the record straight.

But it doesn’t hurt, and can even help, to listen, take in the plaints and take ownership where we need to.

There’s always at least a little truth and information — sometimes a lot — in what our loved ones tell us, even if they state it imperfectly or really really imperfectly. Such as, “You suck completely in every possible way and in some ways that defy possibility and the laws of physics.”

(You have to respect a well stated critique.)

Yet remember: Relationship disagreements are not official trials in a court of law where we need to argue our case in a cogent and compelling way and a court reporter is taking it all down and everything we say can and will be held against us, so help us God, even if it might be.

Mostly our loved ones just want to feel heard and understood.

And yes, as Sir Elton put it sadly, sorry seems to be the hardest word. But sorry meant also can be the healing-est word. (Making “thank you” a habit for appreciations large and small is good too.)

Do nice things.

For no reason, even if unnoticeable or noticed, expecting nothing back.

Say nice things — compliments are always welcomed.

Be nice. That’s simplistic advice, I know, but not so simple to follow.

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Classic B. Kliban cartoon

As humans, we get frustrated, stressed, moody, selfish and crappy. Sometimes we’re our worst with the ones we love the most.

Courtesy and consideration is in the eye of the beholder, and can be exhausting with the most sensitive to slights thereof.

But making niceness a priority and trying every day is the classic Robert Browning reach that should always exceed our grasp, “or what’s a heaven for?”

Be aware of others.

It’s amazing how many of life’s annoyances arise when we’re not paying much attention to the people and situations around us and we’re unaware of our impact on them.

From idiot drivers, to loud office mates, to people who don’t know how to queue or take ages to check out in the grocery line, to loved ones who leave wet towels on the floor, we can’t understand how people can be so goddamn clueless. We also don’t notice when we are.

It’s hard to be aware and sensitive to others and our surroundings all the time, especially when daily life brings a shifting kaleidoscope of demands and distractions.

But again, simply making the effort to be more aware can make a big difference to our loved ones, and also bring love, peace and harmony that’s a gift back to us.

Being selfless even for selfish reasons means we all win.

Yes, yes, I know — it’s easier to give than live these hoary, hackneyed bromides.

Forgive me. If it’s sometimes true, as the old joke goes, that those who can’t do, teach, then I’m a tenured professor with an endowed chair in lessons learned the hard way. Which we’re told is the best way, so I’m fortunate for that. Also fortunate for the many people who know I still have a lot to learn and are happy to teach me.

(You know who you are, and I’m grateful you still believe I’m not a lost cause. Yet.)

One caveat: Giving the timeless, intangible gifts of selflessness may not relieve us from having to find something thoughtful and pleasing to buy, wrap and give to our loved ones.

The best things in life are free but the best presents are not.

(N.B. to family and friends: Thank you in advance for pooling your resources including your kids’ college funds and your retirement savings to buy me that $137,000 Maserati Quattroporte GTS that’s on my wish list this year. You spoil me! Stop don’t stop!)

Yet honestly, who among us, in our hearts, doesn’t want to give the truest, best and least costly but most invaluable gift of all: ourselves?

Or receive that gift from others we love?

I’ll keep trying. Or what’s a heaven for?

Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.

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