Christmas is a time of giving. It’s the busiest season for benefit parties and concerts, cookie sales and collecting donations. We give away time and money, do voluntary work and subscribe to charities. Still, we often expect something in return. Some of us believe that good deeds are rewarded in afterlife, some have faith in karma, and for some it’s just Justin Timberlake stuck in our heads – what goes around, comes around. I began to wonder: why is it that sharing without any expectations is such a strange thought for most of us?
Our forebears had to fight for their lives in the wild, eat when they could and keep rivals away from their hunting grounds. Now we mostly fight for the last pair of shoes on sale, eat 24/7 at McDonalds and keep rivals away from our workstations. For most of us living in Finland, owning all the things we do is not a necessity, it’s just something that we have grown into. A short while ago I noticed the 100 Thing Challenge spreading around the world, encouraging people to get rid of their personal belongings and keep only one hundred items of their own. While this sounds kind of radical to me, the message is clear: throwing away material means giving more space for the really meaningful and important things. In many religions asceticism is regarded respectable and people giving all worldly possessions away considered enlightened. Think of buddhist monks walking around in their habits living from hand to mouth – if we saw them shopping at the mall, that would create a credibility gap to say the least. But what makes us think that they are any wiser or happier without a suit from the newest collection of Armani?
Evolutionally thinking, it’s coded into our DNA to hold on to what we got. Little children almost never want to give away things that they like, whether they own them or not. How are we convinced that letting go is sometimes the right thing to do, and what price do we ultimately receive for doing so? How do we learn that sharing makes us happy, but taking without permission is wrong? Would the story have gone differently, had Goldilocks asked the bears for some porridge?