On my morning commute, I found myself remembering a volatile time in my youth. On only two occasions in my lifetime did I have a physical altercation with my father. The last time we were aggressive with each other, was when I was 16 years old.
My father had given me a gift – a computer. This was a long time ago. The computer was an old Atari ST personal computer (yes Atari did make personal computers for short time.)
What’s interesting about being a gift giver, is that we sometimes get attached to the item we bought. We feel we own it, even after giving it. Thinking back to the old black and white TV show “I Love Lucy,” there’s an episode where she sells her all furniture to another couple. When she discovers they are repainting it, sawing off the legs of the couch and other ‘monstrosities’ she gets enraged and buys it all back. It’s a good laugh. But it’s also very true to human behavior.
As a teenager, I sometimes was careless with the gifts I was given.
One day my father walked past my bedroom and he saw me attack my computer. Ha! Yes, I attacked it. I was not a happy teenager. I was very angry with life (in general) and my computer wasn’t making things any easier. I forget what triggered my anger, but something frustrating occurred with the computer and I raised a fist and slammed it down on the keyboard.
Pretty funny, now that I look back at it, and I can totally see this behavior in my 6-year-old son.
As you might imagine my father had a reaction. My reaction led to his reaction. He stormed into my room shouting at me. He was cross. After all, he’s seeing me abuse an expensive computer he bought for me.
The real reason my father was angry, was that he was still attached to the object. If he truly wasn’t attached to the computer, he wouldn’t care if I slammed my fist into it any more than he’d care if our neighbor smashed their own tv with a hammer.
When we give things to others, especially our children, we often retain a sense of ownership. This happens a lot with how my wife and I deal with our son. We give him something and he throws it. We get frustrated and tell him “No you can’t break that!”
My understanding of Buddhism would infer a better approach. Instead of getting angry (a sense of continued ownership), one should allow the other to do with the gift as they please. If they destroy the item, they simply learn a lesson about “loss.”
Loss the Important Lesson
We love to protect our kids. Sometimes we get angry at their abuse of gifts because we feel our ownership on the item (i.e. “I paid good money for that!”) Other times, however, we get upset because we don’t want our kids to feel pain. We know when they break the computer or their toy, that they will feel bad afterward.
When we control these events with our kids (so they don’t break the gifts) we prevent them from learning about loss. Loss is a great life lesson. It’s an important lesson. Until we understand loss, we won’t really understand life.
Many aspects of life create a suffering nature. Or better stated, our attachment to things creates suffering. Without this lesson early on, we can grow into teenagers and be unaccustomed to loss. When loss finally appears, it can feel unbearable. We just weren’t prepared for it.
I know of a woman who’s 10-year old son had an iPad. One day in a fit of rage he threw it from their 3rd story apartment window. It smashed to pieces outside. She wasn’t angry, but she went out and bought him a brand new iPad the very next day. That’s equally wrong. The child is not learning about life now. Now he’s learning that he gets new things as old things are depleted and there’s never a loss. At some point he will face a loss that isn’t recoverable and he may not have the means by which to deal with it.
Attachment and Gifts
Attachment ultimately cultivates anger, resentment, frustration, hate, apathy and depression. When we lose what we are attached to, these feelings blossom.
Gifts that we give should be given with detachment. There should never be a feeling of “I paid good money for that… you better treat it right,” mentality.
When receiving a gift, as adults, should respect it. Children, however, haven’t yet learnd about loss. They won’t respect the gift. They may take a hammer to the toy or throw an iPad out the window.
We must not act like the gift they destroy is still ours. We must not act like their choices should be prevented, saving them from grief. Allow others to experience loss. We may not like the fact that someone doesn’t take care of the car we bought them, or the computer, but it’s their gift to do with as they wish.
While it’s great practice to warn someone that their misuse of an object may break it, we should allow the individual to make their own choices. When the item or gift breaks, there’s no new one for them to have. “Sorry, but you broke that and we can’t afford to buy another,” is a life lesson.