The Daily Stoic for April 12th. “Reject tantalizing gifts”.
“Atreus: Who would reject the flood of fortune’s gifts?
Thyestes: Anyone who has experienced how easily they flow back.”
—SENECA, THYESTES, 536
What’s wrong with accepting a gift?
Generally speaking, nothing. However, there are different types of gifts. In Spain -or in my region, anyway- we have a saying:
The one who offers a gift for free is selling well, if the one who receives it understands.
What that idiom is telling us is that, by accepting a gift, sometimes we are putting ourselves in a situation where we will need to give back more than we received. Without ever needing it.
Reject Tantalizing Gifts
Some gifts carry obligations and favors to give back in return. A typical example is how politicians are lured to accept gifts in exchange for a special, favorable treatment for a company or organization.
Other gifts make us weak, like when our overprotective parents give us everything we need, want or desire. If you have been granted everything just by asking for it, you are probably going to have a bad time when you leave your bubble.
A gift may be something we don’t need, something that clutters our life, leaving us with just one more piece of junk we just didn’t ask for.
Preamble To The Instructions On How To Wind A Watch
Julio Cortazar is one of my favorite writers. His novels, surrealist stories and short tales have had a profound impact on me. The most powerful of his essays is, in my opinion, this “Preamble to the instructions on how to wind a watch”. It talks precisely about today’s stoic meditation, so I thought it was only fair to include it here.
Think of this: when they give you watch, they are giving you with a tiny flowering hell, a wreath of roses, a dungeon of air.
They aren’t simply giving you the watch, and wishing you a good birthday, and hoping it will last. You know it’s a good grand, Swiss, seventeen rubies; they aren’t just giving you this small stonecutter you’ll attach to your wrist and walk along with it.
They are giving you – they don’t know it, it’s terrible but they don’t know it – they are giving you a new fragile and precarious piece of yourself, something that’s yours but not a part of your body, that you have to strap to your body like your belt, like a tiny, furious bit of something hanging onto your wrist.
They give you the job of winding it every day, the need to wind it, so that it keeps on being a watch, they give you the obsession of looking into jewelry-shop windows to check the exact time, or the radio announcement, or the telephone service.
They give you the gift of fear, the fear that someone will steal it from you, that it’ll fall on the street and break.
They give you the gift of its brand, and the guarantee that it’s better than others, they give you the need to compare your watch with other watches.
They aren’t just giving you a watch, you are the gift, they are giving you for the watch’s birthday.
— Julio Cortazar
Today’s Daily Stoic, “Reject tantalizing gifts”, warns us about something as apparently innocent as accepting a gift. Some gifts are more than they appear. Others carry some obligations and duties. And finally the cost of others easily outweighs its value.
It’s always wise, in my view, to ask ourselves if we really want to accept this gift we’re being offered.