Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for the ‘Gifts’ Category

Cynicism or Human Understanding?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 24, 2011

“A gift is a form of coercion,” I say, trying to point out that human behavior is about multiple motivations, both conscious and unconscious. “You are cynical,” Stu says to me, with a tone of both surprise and contempt. “When I give a gift, it is because I feel good about a person,” Stu says, as if there is nothing more to talk about. His wife, Deirdre, also in my consultation room, chimes in, “I think she is trying to say that human behavior is complicated.” Stu responds rapidly, “yes, but to say that a gift is coercion seems to take the joy out of the process. I like giving people gifts.¬† I don’t care what they think of me.” “I understand that,” I respond, trying to point out the layers of meaning in every action, “at the same time, I can imagine that when you give someone a gift, you hope they appreciate the gift and you hope they appreciate the giver as well. There are expectations associated with gift-giving which can lead to loving feelings, but other times, it can lead to anger and disappointment,” I respond. “This is silly,” Stu says. Deirdre stays patient, but responds quietly, “this is not silly. We need to understand our expectations from one another so that we can get along. I do appreciate you when you get me gifts and I hope that you appreciate me when I do the same. I am not trying to manipulate you, but I am trying to generate some positive feelings when I get you presents.” “Now I think you are both cynical,” Stu says, “but I will think about what you are saying. Right now it sounds crazy to me.” “I am glad you are open to thinking about these ideas that on first pass sound absurd to you.” I say, feeling optimistic, but also concerned that Stu sees¬† motivation as purely altruistic and then he defends his thinking by attacking me. At the same time, I begin to think, where does understanding the selfish nature of human behavior end and cynicism begin? Stu does raise a good point. Human behavior, when thought about in stark terms, can sound cynical. The challenge is understanding layers, especially while under stress. “Gifts are also a really nice part of relationships,” I say, reminding Stu, Deirdre and myself that the nice layer is important too.

Posted in Gifts, Psychotherapy | 4 Comments »

%d bloggers like this: