Thinking through the dynamics of gift and gratitude, linguistic analogies are useful.
A statement or proposal or question is a gift. A response is supposed to be a counter-gift, an act of gratitude, grace returned for the grace given. To keep a conversation going, you need to receive the gift from the other and to offer a return gift. ”Gratitude” in a linguistic context is not merely a “thank you” for an insight given. It may be initially, but if someone says “thanks” without ever responding, it’s likely he’s trying to duck out of the conversation.
Not just any counter-proposal will do.
The return gift has to be appropriate to the gift you were given. It can’t be on a completely different topic – that is not a conversation, but a power-play. It cannot merely return the gift from the other speaker. Repeating the same thing back and forth is not a conversation. A parrot can do that.
A return gift of speech should glorify, enhance, extend, exceed what was spoken. It should be a creative variation on the theme of the conversation, a contribution to understanding the subject matter under discussion.
When the gift is extra-linguistic, the same standards apply: The counter-gift has to be suitable; it has to work within the constraints established by the initial gift, yet it cannot merely be identical to the initial gift; it should exceed and extend the original gift, not necessarily in monetary value, but in the contribution it makes to the relationship between giver and recipient.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 10:16 am
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