Never give a gift again: a how-to by Derrida

Some people believe that the best form of gift-giving is to give and expect nothing in return.

This does sound noble. 

The philosopher Jacques Derrida argued that in order for a gift to truly be a gift, there can be no benefit to the giver.

There can be zero benefit to the giver.

None at all.

The receiver can’t say thank you or even acknowledge that a gift has been given. The giver can’t feel a warm feeling inside, let alone consciously give a gift

So if I buy a Rolex, leave it on a park bench and think that it’ll make someone’s day to have it, that’s not a gift. But if I walk down the street in my gym clothes and someone sees me and thinks ‘Wow, I feel inspired me to go to the gym’ That's a gift.

If I say to myself ‘I must remember that Bond Street tube station is closed’ and someone randomly overhears me and thinks ‘Thank goodness I know that golden nugget of information – I can find an alternative route’ then that's a gift.

There are obvious wins with Derrida’s theory and I will name three.


If you don’t know when you’re giving a gift, you could, theoretically, be giving gifts all the time without knowing it which is a lovely thought.  Maybe the universe will reward you for this. 


It’s a very cost-effective theory. You can’t buy anything intended it to be a gift.


It encourages the giver to not be materialistic or conceited.

There are also some very obvious problems:


If you want to give a gift to a specific person, you can’t.


You might give undeserving people gifts. 


You can't enjoy the feeling of giving.


You’d be a pariah at birthday and Christmas parties.

Your dad: What are you giving mum for her birthday?
You: I am consciously giving her nothing. I might be giving her something unconsciously. I’ll never know.

Gift giving ideas inspired by Derrida:

  • Be kind
  • Make good choices

But don’t think about it.