In my previous column on bad Christmas gifts, I explained why we give bad gifts and how to avoid doing so. The main point of that column was that bad gifts are a burden because they fail to show real love. But what should we do when someone loves us this badly? The most habitual response is to say that we should be polite, smile, and say, “Thank you.” The most habitual response is wrong. Why? Because lying is a sin.
“But being polite is not a sin.” That’s a discussion worthy of it’s own attention. Fortunately for this column, acting pleased in the reception of a bad Christmas gift is not a form of politeness. Being polite is what we are supposed to do to strangers and people we don’t know well enough to be fully honest with. Such people are not usually giving us Christmas gifts, and, if they do, that’s a different case. I am talking about bad gifts from friends and family, people with whom we have a relationship, or are supposed to.
“Still, why is lying and acting grateful not acceptable? Isn’t it the thought that counts?” As I explained in the previous column, no. But the danger of lying is already well-known to anyone who’s tried this approach: it only makes things worse. I once had a good friend give me a book as a gift. I added it to the 3,000+ other books I own and forgot all about it … until he asked me a few months later if I had enjoyed it. I told him I hadn’t read it yet, and I distorted reality slightly by saying I intended to do so. Another few months passed, and he inquired again. Now I had to make a choice, either continue to lie and act as if I intended to read this book as soon as I could make the time or else tell him the truth.
And that’s the point, bad gifts accepted gratefully only cause further problems. Your friends visit and inquire if something went wrong with the lava lamp you’ve been storing in the garage sale pile. You get asked why you never wear that hand knit green and orange sweater you acted so glad to get from your grandmother. Or perhaps your realtor notices that your skin tone doesn’t seem to be responding to the Siberian anchovy cleansing cream he sent you.
Maybe you lie. Maybe you have to invent subsequent outrageous lies to cover over the first. But the worst part of lying is the awful thing that happens when you do it well: you receive another bad gift next year from the person who thinks he’s doing you a blessing. Alternately, at some point the deception becomes so fraudulent that you rightly recognize it as being incompatible with the honesty that’s supposed to be the cornerstone of any non-pathological relationship. So you tell the truth later, which turns out to be messier than if you’d done it earlier, before the scope of the fraud was so extensive.