As a marketer, at this time of the year I am forever amazed at the number of times the words “perfect gift” appear in an advertisement – for anything. The “perfect” gift could be coffee, pearls or a cruise to the Caribbean. The ad copy is supposed to have you asking, “What is the perfect gift for my recipient?” Can we really give a “perfect” gift? Do we even stop to think about what that means?

In the spirit of the holiday season and in acknowledgment of the unspeakable tragedy suffered by those in Newtown, Connecticut, this week, I would like to offer my own list of the “perfect” gifts for anyone on your list – and even those who might not make the list:

  1. The gift of compassion. People are hurting everywhere. Life is hard for many, many people. Economic conditions are tough, family situations weigh on people’s minds, people are working more than one job to get by, mothers are raising children by themselves in many places, and the list goes on and on. The person you see today in line behind you at the store, cutting you off in traffic, or walking by your desk or place of work is probably hurting. Take a minute to look someone in the eye today, ask them how they are and sincerely mean that you want to know, and respond with compassion to whatever they say. We need to pass more compassion around – it’s in short supply.
  2. The gift of time, instead of “I keep meaning to call you,” “I would love to get together for lunch but there is no time,” or “I didn’t know you needed help, I’ve been so busy.” Life seems to be an endless list of things to do for many of us. Work and family commitments or general busyness prevents us from seeing people, talking to them or just making space for another person’s being. We run from thing to thing and keep promising ourselves that tomorrow we’ll offer time to someone else, but in too many cases, tomorrow never comes. I love the adage I once heard that says, “Would you want your tombstone to say, ‘I wish I could have worked more!’” Of course not – we wish we could spend quality time with people we care about and people who need our attention. Look at your calendar this week – where can you shift something so that you can finally connect with someone you have been meaning to see? Make that time – there truly is no greater gift you can give to another person.
  3. The gift of understanding. Many people feel misunderstood and isolated in today’s “connected” world. It’s our cultural Achilles heel to move quickly to put a label on someone, or to judge them. Watch your labels and your judgments. When you see someone who looks or acts a certain way, what do you immediately think about them? If someone has a certain communication style, or uses certain words, do you pigeon-hole them and assume you know the type of person they are? We often don’t realize how much we box people in and make quick assumptions about them. In many, many cases, our quick judgments are wrong. We later learn that we really like someone we thought we didn’t like at all! Suspend judgment. Be open to people and let them reveal who they are before you assume anything about them.
  4. The gift of listening. In our fast-paced world, the art of listening is slowly but surely disappearing. Many people are connected 24/7 to their music players and cell phones and are engaged in listening, but it isn’t active listening with a focus on another person. We want people to “cut to the chase,” to “get to the point” so we can move on to whatever else is demanding our attention. Most of the time when someone is talking to us, we are talking in our heads about what we will say next! We don’t even let them finish before we offer our perspective on what they have to say. Or in many cases, the way we connect is to share something about our experience or our lives instead of giving the other person the room to share what they care about without our intervention. This holiday season, practice listening. Focus on other people when they speak to you. Give them your full attention. You will notice that it requires effort and concentration. It takes energy to truly focus on another. There is nothing that makes us feel more human and more important than feeling listened to. Be a shoulder. Be a friend. Be an ear to someone who needs it. Learn to listen. In addition to making the other person feel valued and important, you might learn something in the process.

This holiday season, commit to giving one or more of these gifts. They can’t be bought at the mall, they can’t be found online and they aren’t often given freely. Be a giver of the type of gifts that really are the “perfect” ones for those you care about. 

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