Bill Gates shows us how to give


According to the great seasonal cliche, Christmas is a time of giving. 

The main characteristic of giving is that it is an act of free will that comes from the heart. Yet gift-giving can be the product of the need we feel to conform to expectations. We give presents to family members, friends and colleagues, partly to buy their continued acceptance of us in their lives. 

If this applies to us and we feel we have no choice in the matter, gift-giving is not about free will at all, but captivity. 

We may in fact feel gracious towards people because they have been there for us during the year. But the exercise of gift-giving is not an expression of that graciousness if it's something we feel we have to do. We are not giving, we are paying, and we know that if we don't pay, there will be consequences. In effect, it is a kind of private taxation. 

It is not necessarily a bad thing to give a present that is a requirement of etiquette rather than an expression of love. But it's important that we are able to identify the particular act of giving as such, in the way that we know very well what we are doing when we pay our taxes to the Australian Tax Office.

Our feelings when we pay taxes are usually not positive. That is a pity, because what we are doing is contributing to society's common good. But if it's something we've got to do, there is no heart felt sharing of self that is the characteristic of true giving. This is true of Christmas presents, too.

It does not have to be that way. Bill Gates' presence in Australia during this holiday period reminds us that contributing to the common good can be a very satisfying exercise of free will.

Gates chose to give away more than a third of his wealth to causes such as education and global health and development, even though this cost him his 'world's richest man' title. He chose not to conform to the expectation that he would hold on to his wealth.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Bill Gates, Christmas



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Existing comments

Granted Gates is generous, but let's not overlook the source of his wealth - the world technical population via Microsoft.

Michael Howard | 19 December 2011  

The motives behind Bill Gates's actions, and the magnitude of his bequests are indeed most praise worthy. Of course it is easier to be philanthropic when you have more than sufficient! Never-the-less, many, in a "less Gateish" way, contribute what they can, in many ways, to society's common good.

Kay Bushnell | 19 December 2011  

Michael, thank you for a good reflection on gift-giving. Might we also add that there is a great complusion placed upon people to 'give' by companies whose survival - and profit- depends on consumerism? As for Mr Gates, might his giving acrually be motivated by guilt at the obscene fortune he has aquired due to cornering the market in the first place?

Mark David Walsh | 19 December 2011  

Marvellous guy, Bill Gates, isn't he?!! If all entrepreneurs were as generous and philanthropic as him, well who knows?! what a wonderful guy!! Great article, too!!

Phillip Smith | 29 December 2011  

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