I came across a reference to the original definition of an “indian giver” in the 25th anniversary edition of the book The Gift, by Lewis Hyde. The American Indians gave gifts with the expectation that the gift would be returned or passed on, or an equivalent gift given in return. Rather than describe this as a negative, Hyde explores the impact of gift giving and how gifts differ from capital. According to Hyde, the essential rule of the gift is that “one man’s gift must not be another man’s capital” – use it or pass it on.
Hyde also explores the role of gifts in building social capital through building relationships and also through the sharing of ideas. You know the saying: “If I have two dollars and I give you one, I am poorer, but if I have two ideas and give you one, I still have my two ideas”. However, in the days of intellectual property laws, if I give you one of my ideas I may expect a fee in return for your use. In this instance I am not gifting my ideas to you but rather renting them out. I notice that I have long been a gifter when it comes to ideas, but over the past few years I have stopped giving physical presents – because I believed everyone has too much stuff. More recently I have been tempted to gift things from fair trade shops etc. and Hyde’s arguments have helped me reconcile the competing urges.
In addition, I love the “pay if forward” concept and Jono Fisher’s wonderful ambition to start a Kindness Revolution here in Sydney. Check out the website: WakeUpSydney and order your Kindness cards. I got my pack of Kindness cards and sat with them for three weeks before I realised that the aim is to pass them on as quickly as possible. What fun it’s been.
PS If you want to forward on stuff you no longer want, log on to ReUseIt (formerly Freecycle) and find a group near you.
PPS thanks to Sascha Molitoritz from the Sydney Morning Herald, whose gift of his article alerted me to Hyde’s book.