my dad and I were stuck in traffic driving up to Sonoma County for a family weekend. We were accidentally listening to a doomsday message on the radio about the coming millennium and the earth will be renewed. I asked my dad “what would this appeal to anyone?” we were talking for a while and eventually he asked me, “well, whats the greatest gift you could give someone?”
I thought about this question for a long time, the whole weekend. I came up with my answer: knowledge. I thought about the greatest gifts I have received in my life.
My dad had a different answer: hope. Humans appeal to the future, he argues. You can give someone the gift of looking forward to something greater in the future, its how we’re wired. I thought about it for a while and said yes, that is the greatest gift you could give someone.
I asked my other friend the same question, he said the ability to give yourself long-lasting contentment. Teach a man to fish sort of thing. I countered that hope was the greatest gift he disagreed being happy at the moment is much more rewarding than making a habit of looking expectantly to the future. In time, I came to agree. Contentment is the best gift.
I asked another friend, he said that the greatest gift you can give someone is your time, attention, and understanding. He told me about how his best friend from college went on trips together and shared each other’s lives with each other and how that was the most meaningful experience he had in his first year of college. Connection, he said, is the greatest gift you can give someone. I loved this answer and I reflected on my most meaningful relationships, and I agreed.
I asked my brother the same question, he said kindness. Simple acts of kindness that were not called for. I loved this answer too, and I said to myself, how can all of these answers be true?
Then it dawned on me that each answer was more telling about the character of the person than what is the greatest gift. Not only does it reveal what each person values, but it reflects how that person sees themselves. The question prompts people to answer in terms of what they think they have to offer the people around them.
I answered knowledge because I think that is what makes me interesting to other people and I enjoy sharing ideas. My Dad answered hope because he is good at inspiring people and he plans for the future. My friend answered connection because he is good at building friendships and bonds well with other people.
Another way to look at it would be what are the most meaningful experiences you’ve had in your life. I know for me the times when I have felt most immersed in the world and completely lost myself in my work was when I was doing deep intellectual and service work. I enjoy expanding my world view through reading, thinking, and meeting new people.