This is an assignment for Creative Problem Solving course I’m taking online via Coursera and the University of Minnesota. Each week, students are asked to Do Something Different, and then reflect on the process.
Give something different. Plan in advance and implement a gift or giving activity; document your DSD in writing and in video/photos. This should be something you have never done before, or an act of giving to someone you never have given anything before. You might want to to a mindmap of all the words associated with “giving” to give you some ideas. What do you give, to whom or what, and why? How do you define what ‘giving’ is? How might you identify a person to give something to, and how can you identify challenge areas to create a meaningful experience through giving?
This is a really interesting challenge for me. I’m from the UK, but I’ve recently come home after spending two years living in Japan as an English Teacher. It was an amazing experience for so many reasons, not least for the glimpse it gave me of the culture of Japan, and its differences from my own culture.
One of the many differences I enjoyed was the culture of gift-giving in Japan. Gifts, and the act of giving and receiving a gift, are a really important way to strengthen social bonds between people. It’s not just about the gift itself, but about the thought behind it that says, “I value you highly, and I am expressing this through a gift.” If a colleague goes on holiday, it is kind of expected that they bring back a souvenir gift for everybody in the office – it’s called omiyage. In my school there were around a hundred members of staff, so I would buy a huge box of sweets or pastries when I went away. Omiyage is just one of many different types of gift. You can read more about gift giving in Japan at this link (via Tofugu).
Another type that’s normal in Japan is a gift from a new resident of an apartment building, given to their new neighbours. It’s normal to knock on the doors along your hall or staircase, introduce yourself to your neighbours, and to give a small gift. (You can read more about this custom here) It’s serendipitous that DSD6 is coming around right now. On the first of April, my girlfriend and I picked up the keys to our new apartment (in the UK, we say ‘flat’ but it’s basically the same thing). We’re currently going through the process of decorating and buying furniture before we move in. We share a hallway with a family who live in the flat below. Could I give something different to my new neighbours?
2. Mind Mapping
I logged on to www.mindmup.com and made a mind-map to help capture some early thoughts.
I started to think about the different gifts I’d given in the past to other neighbours. The Scottish shortbread cookies I’d given in Japan were a great gift from a new British neighbour. Would that be an appropriate gift in this situation? Maybe. I started to evaluate my ideas using the colour coding system below.
3. Narrowing down options
I want to give a gift in two parts.
- I want to give my neighbours something useful that will help us all to live in the same building easily. I want them to be comfortable with Laura and me, and to feel like they can always contact us if they need to say anything about noise, refuse collection, or shared areas.
- I want to give my neighbours something they can enjoy. Ideally, this will be something edible. However, this needs to consider the possibility that my neighbours might have dietary needs or religious beliefs that place restrictions on what they can eat. I need to choose something nice, but uncontroversial.
I’m open minded about how to wrap it. It will depend on the gift.
This is a draft of the information I want to give to the neighbours (PDF). I went shopping today to find a suitable edible gift. This is what I found.
I thought that jam and marmalade would make an appropriate gift; it’s nice, but not so expensive that it demands any kind of reciprocation. It’s a simple, consumable gift that my neighbours can enjoy.
I thought long and hard about taking a photo of me giving the gift to my neighbour. I didn’t want to say, “It’s for class – I need a photo.” The act of giving a gift means something different if it’s being done for an assignment, I think. The more I considered this from the perspective of my neighbour, the more I thought that it would be weird for them if I took a picture as I imparted the gift. I want the gift to be given without any kind of conditions. How could a photo not affect my neighbour’s perception of receiving the gift? I chose not to photograph the moment. Instead, here is an approximation of what happened:
David knocks neighbour’s door. Raymondo, the downstairs neighbour, opens it.
DAVID: Good evening Raymondo. How are you
RAYMONDO: Hello. I am okay.
David offers the gift. Raymondo looks puzzled. David smiles, slightly awkwardly.
DAVID: This is a small gift. For you and for your family.
DAVID: Please enjoy!
David gives gift bag to Raymondo. Raymondo is slightly puzzled. But starting to smile.
RAYMONDO: Thank you.
6. Response and reflection
Where I lived in Japan, the act of giving a gift was a formal way of establishing the bonds between neighbours. In London, it isn’t considered normal to give a gift as you move in to a new apartment building. London has a reputation as an unfriendly city, where people mind their own business, and keep their nose out of other people’s affairs. I think my neighbour’s puzzled reaction would be typical across London. It just isn’t the done thing. I guess it was a different kind of giving.
How did it make me feel? I felt awkward, a little like the time I wore something different on a London bus. Like then, I also felt that I did something pretty tough for me, but that the reaction I got was more confused than impressed. Creativity isn’t about being impressive or about winning popularity, I understand, but getting a flat reaction takes away from the fun of the challenge somewhat.
I am pleased at the choice I made around the ethics of photographing the act of gift giving. Imagine how Raymondo would feel if he knew I was giving him a gift for class, rather than out the kindness of my heart. The meaning attached to the act of giving is very different depending on the context. It was important for me to give the gift in the spirit of the Japanese gift – as a way of setting up a future good relationship – rather than as a photo opportunity. I think it was right to not capture an image of the giving of the gift.
Overall, I got a lot out of this challenge. I especially enjoyed the ideation and preparation stages.