The science of giving

(Posted by Mark)

Giving up
First up, let’s establish the fact that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a quitter. If you’re not winning, and you’re not cheating well enough either, then give up. Persistence doesn’t always pay off, and though few people like a loser, even fewer people like someone who just doesn’t know when to let go. As Zena so correctly points out, failing and then quitting immediately gives you more time to go and fail somewhere else. Spread the failure around, don’t keep it all to yourself.

Yielding when you know that you can no longer win represents a realistic and honest attitude, rather than a bloodyminded insistence that however bad the situation gets, you will continue until the bitter end. For some reason, though, society regards the fact that a captain will go down with the sinking ship as somehow heroic and noble rather than really moronic; though I can see the point that this would serve.

If the ship is sinking, then it must be the captain’s responsibility and he can’t be a very good captain if his ship is scuppered, therefore letting him perish along with the vessel allows you to get rid of an inept mariner. Now that’s good thinking, but still not very heroic. And I’m sure that rats aren’t too chuffed that they’ve been given a bad name simply because they had the sense to desert the sinking ship. Which in turn raises the question: if a ship of rats is sinking, would the rat captain desert or go down with the boat? I think we should be told.

There are, as always, a few minor exceptions to the rule that capitulation is often a sensible course of action. If you have swum halfway across the Atlantic, it seems foolish to give up, turn around and swim all the way back. You should just radio for a cruise ship instead. Also, you should recognise when it is a good time to give up: a split-second after the aircraft has taken off is a bad time to realise that you aren’t yet ready to face your fear of flying. For the best example of when not to quit, watch Lloyd Bridges’ attempts in Airplane and you will see what I mean. Otherwise, though, feel free to give up immediately.

Giving gifts
Timeo Danaos et dona ferentis. Quite true, especially if the gift is a bloody big horse made of wood with armed warriors inside. However, as the construction of such an animal is time-consuming at best and pointless at worst, most of us make do with making something smaller, or just selecting and buying pre-manufactured balsa mares gifts. Though I run the risk of being accused of hubris, I would aver that I am quite a good gift-giver, provided that I have remembered the occasion and that I am in the unlikely position of having any money at all. When memory and wealth collide, though, profligacy surely follows.

It’s a great feeling when you see something and immediately think to yourself, “I know exactly who would love that!”. The only better feeling is being there to watch them open it and, hopefully, dance a little jig in celebration at having received a perfectly chosen present. Last birthday, I was on the receiving end of the perfect present. My friends all clubbed together and bought me 12 Bond DVDs, in a box which they had made and decorated with pictures of Bond girls cut out from newspapers and magazines which also contained little tins of caviar, some crispbreads and a bottle of vodka. I recall being speechless with gratitude (and, ahem, booze), though there was no jig-dancing. There was chin-cutting and blood-letting, but no jig-dancing.

Giving money
I would refer you to Messrs Kiedis et al and their previous statement to “give it away, give it away, give it away, give it away now”.

Giving directions
As referred to many, many times before, I am an absolutely hopeless navigator, preferring instead to work out my route through ‘zen navigation’: wherever you end up is where you were meant to be. I am, however, quite good at giving people directions. Not directing them in the “1.5km north-north-east” sense, mainly because I never know where north is, wherever I am. I give people real-life directions, though occasionally putting in a bit too much detail:

“Right, go to the end of the street, where the coffee shop is, take a right and walk down just as far as the HMV. Stand with your back to the HMV window display and on your right, across the road, you’ll see a small alleyway. Go down there until the second wheelie-bin, turn left then right and you should be about 20 seconds away. Got that?”

I’m also good at drawing little maps, which is pretty necessary when directing people from my flat to, well, anywhere, but mainly to the tube station. Wiggly lines means the canal, little pint glasses shaded three-quarters black mean pubs, little five pound notes mean banks, shopping baskets mean supermarkets … you get the drift. Camden being Camden, I was wondering whether I should put in other little symbols to denote some of the more ‘local’ attributes: little needles could represent either piercing studios or drug dealers, outstretched palms could mean beggars, and little black inverted crucifixes could indicate goths. It would give the map a bit more of a community flavour, I think.

The two pre-eminent experts at giving directions are my flatmate Mike and my father. Knowing London intricately well, most probably better than either the front or the back of their hand, they seem capable of instructing people through all the back streets, byways, alleyways, one-way streets and short cuts. Whereas I tend to know some areas very well and others hardly at all, Dad and Mike have a knowledge to rival The Knowledge. This is significantly better than most of the minicab drivers who stand by Camden Town station and whose knowledge of Camden itself is rather bad, never mind the rest of London. Half the time, I end up giving them directions – perhaps I should give them a copy of my local map.

Giving as good as you get
Although I am not one to advocate retaliation, it’s vital in the cut and thrust of conversation to be able to stand one’s ground and refuse to be intimidated, cowed or bullied. And it’s even more important that you manage to get at least one cheap gag into a conversation before you’re shot down. Parrying and blocking another person’s verbal barbs is tricky, and is often easier when you’ve never met them before because you have a licence to be as rude or intentionally offensive as you like. It’s especially fun to watch and listen to other people when they are duelling with their wits, mainly because they will probably reveal some secret or some gossip that they weren’t supposed to let slip. Either that or you can learn new put-downs.

It would be perfectly possible to enter into the ‘an eye for an eye’ versus ‘turn the other cheek’ debate here, but I’m certainly bored of it and I imagine you are too. I say that you’re entitled to riposte when someone is deliberately and nastily attempting to belittle or humiliate you. Those who would patronise and humble others in order to make themselves feel good, look good in front of their friends or provide themselves with a way to pass the time, those people should prepare themselves for some equally vituperative and forceful comebacks. I really hate it when people talk down to me, so I see no reason why I should do it to anyone else, and would hope that this is a common view. But then the real measure of a heated conversation is whether the person who’s dishing it out can take it, so you might as well test them.

Giving yourself to the moment
Carefree abandonment. Even the words sound fun, never mind whichever actions or inactions they represent for each person. Surrendering into what you really want to do has to be the most exciting part of the science of giving, without any doubt.

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