Dear Margo: Conquering a Phobia

Margo Howard’s advice

Conquering a Phobia

Dear Margo: I am a bicycle rider, or at least I used to be. A couple of months ago, I almost got run over in an intersection. It was a four-way stop, and I had stopped and was waiting for the oncoming car to stop before I proceeded. I didn’t realize the driver had not seen me, and just as I was crossing in front of her car, she started forward. For a second I thought, “They want to kill me.” I screamed like I was being attacked, and the driver stopped in time to just tap my bicycle. She did not knock me over. I was pretty shook up and had to get a ride home.

I recognized that I was a little fearful of getting back on my bike, but I did, thinking that my fear would decrease over time. It has not. My resistance to riding has become so great that I can no longer ride alone. If I’m riding with someone, I am fine, but I no longer ride to work or to do errands. I hate this. I just want to be like I was. I hate going to a therapist for what seems like such a small thing. Do you have any advice? — Terminally Spooked?

Dear Term: I do not consider your fear a small thing. It is interfering with your life and your routine, and it’s entirely understandable to me as someone who is afraid to even get on a bike.

I would suggest you see a cognitive therapist (often they are psychologists) to deal with your one issue. Look at it this way: The fright you are experiencing is clear-cut and fixable, so consider yourself lucky that this straightforward difficulty (let us call it “vehicular phobia relating to four wheels versus two”) is not a stew of dysfunctional relationships, abuse or depression requiring extensive therapy, medication, past lives regression or what have you. “Getting back on the horse” has many applications having nothing to do with actual horses. — Margo, therapeutically

Are There “Rights” With Gifts?

Dear Margo: Most of my family members, with the exception of myself, are well to do and have successful careers and lovely homes. They are in the habit of giving donations to charities rather than actual presents on gift-giving occasions, because if any of them needs anything, they can afford to go out and buy it.

The charitable contributions are a lovely and generous practice. However, recently a family member gave money, in my name, to a charity whose conservative (pro-life, anti-LGBT) values I do not agree with. I came unglued, the stuff of real family legend. I was told I cannot dictate what “gifts” I get. But I think that if my name is to be associated with it, I should at least get to request a favorite organization. Do I, or should I, have any right to request that donations in my name not go to such organizations? — Katy

Dear Kat: What an interesting question. I feel your pain and understand your pique. Having such different values from the conservative organization that received “your” contribution would make Jesus want to drink gin from a cat dish, to swipe a phrase from Anne Lamott.

When it’s an occasion — birthday, anniversary, etc. — you can’t really request where the donation will go. The only time such direction is proper is in an obituary. What you can do, however, when you hear from this organization (and you will, because now you are on their list) is to respond with a note asking that you be removed from their mailings because you are not in agreement with their goals. That, or send the postage-paid return envelope back empty. It will make you feel better. — Margo, decorously

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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80 Responses so far.

  1. avatar mayma says:

    LW2, tell your family that they cannot dictate the definition of a gift.  These donations are in no way “gifts” to you, and I would tell them so.  I mean, you are not involved in the exchange in any way, shape or form; it is a transaction between the charity and the donor, period.  If someone gave me that, I would look puzzled, or feign confusion in some way, and then say, “Hm.  Not sure why you’re involving me in your tax plans.”  And then I would lay the card conspicuously aside. 

    • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

      I would also tell the person that you do not want further gifts from them. They can feel free to put their name on the donation. Then stop giving that person gifts as well.

  2. avatar bamabob says:

    LW2, turnabout is fair play; give a donation in that relative’s name to Planned Parenthood or the Trevor Project. While you’re at, how about a gift subscription to the Out, or another gay related magazine?

    • avatar avast2006 says:

      Or maybe a gift basket with five dollars each to Westboro Baptist Church, the KKK, and NAMBLA. That ought to get the point across about not attaching other peoples names to causes without their permission.

  3. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  I think Margo’s advice is sound. 

    LW#2:  At the risk of sounding uncharitable, I think those who unilaterally give  gifts to charities instead of gifts to the person they are intending to gift are presumptuous clods no matter how well-off they or the intended recipient are.  Of course, if they have all agreed that this is the practice and have all given their *favorite charity* suggestions to each other and honor them that is another thing.    But…there is not really anything you can do or say about it other than tell them which charity you prefer without sounding greedy as no one is ever entitled to a gift for any reason.   I would follow Margo’s advice with respect to the charity concerned and mention it no more.  However, since this is the practice in your family and they all believe the recipient has no right to complain about the charity….there is no reason you cannot adopt their policy and send gifts in their names to charities of your choosing.   Even if you cannot afford to match their contributions monetarily you can match their charitable impulses.   

  4. avatar Mango1207 says:

    LW#2: I actually disagree with Margo on this one. I think b/c your relative is donating the money in YOUR name, you should have the right to decide what charity/organization it should go to. At the very least you should be able to say what charities/organizations CAN’T be donated to in your name.
    If the relative doesn’t want to donate to a charity that you prefer, you should tell that person to refrain from donating money to ANY charity in your name.

    • avatar Robert S says:

      I pretty much agree with you.  I don’t think it qualifies as a gift unless they are contributing to something the gift “recipient” favors.  Obviously they don’t want to give to something they don’t support, but they should find something they can both appreciate.

  5. avatar avast2006 says:

    It’s true that you don’t get to dictate what gifts you receive. That said, however, giving money to a third party hardly qualifies as a gift. The birthday boy gets no utility out of the transaction, while the giver is the one who pockets the tax deduction. It benefited everyone BUT the so-called “recipient” but he’s the one who is expected to act grateful?

    And donating to a third party that that you know the “recipient” would find offensive isn’t a gift, it’s a passive-aggressive slap.

  6. avatar WCorvi says:

    Glue the post-paid return envelope to a brick and drop it in a mailbox. The USPS must deliver it, and the recipient must pay the postage.

    • avatar Ariana says:

      And that will accomplish what exactly?

      • avatar The Wild Sow says:

        It will:
        A) Divert that bit of $$ from the organization’s repulsive actual goals, and
        B) Royally piss them off!
        Win-win 🙂

        • avatar md2012 says:

          Actually the group receiving it can reject it and not owe a dime, in which case it will come back to the sender or sit in the dead letter office if there is no return address.

      • avatar mac13 says:

        It will hopefully negate the “gift” value from that relative. However all the charity has to do is refuse it, porblem solved.  But the idea stilll stands.  If the charity got a $100 donation, you could theoretically cancel out part of that in postage due.

  7. avatar Taye says:

    LW#2: I’m sorry but I don’t agree with Margo on this one either.  According to my beliefs giving money to a charity that is anti-LGBT is akin to giving money to a hate group and if a donation was made to a charity like that in my name I would be extremely offended.  I have never tried to get a donation back but I think that if any situation warranted it it would be this one.

    Obviously if my relative didn’t know my beliefs I would sit down and explain why the donation was so offensive without any hard feelings (we’re all entitled to our own beliefs) but if the relative ignored my feelings and continued making donations in my name to groups like that then, as harsh as it sounds, that would probably be the end of the relationship.  I will not tolerate having my name attached to anything that encourages discrimination against anyone.  Period.

  8. avatar G T says:

    I would agree that it is a passive aggressive slap, coupled with no doubt a very smug “well you can’t dictate anything because it was a gift”. I would respond in kind. If it was my name only given to the organization, I would make a donation to something that relative detests and informed them the same way they informed me, with the same smug declaration (along with a “you were right, so I decided to follow your example” dig). If they gave my address out and I started getting all those never ending solicitations, I would see that as a form of passive aggressive preaching and I would return it tenfold; $5-$10 to a dozen charitable organizations they would detest (and I wouldn’t wait until the next holiday) and dare them to complain about the mailers by throwing all their words back in their face.

  9. avatar Ariana says:

    The real problem started when: “I came unglued, the stuff of real family legend.”
    This caused a knee-jerk reaction: “I was told I cannot dictate what “gifts” I get.”

    I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get defensive and write someone off when someone has a screaming hissy-fit. The only way I could see this situation improving would be to either send a letter of apology to the person you came unglued on, or better yet, meet them in person and express a SINCERE apology for losing it.

    Then kindly explain that it rubbed you the wrong why because …. (using perhaps the analogies like giving to a hate group, whatever) and that in the future, in case they are so inclined to ever give anything to you or in your name ever again, to _request_ (not demand) either give to a more general charity or at least one that’s not so polarizing.

    Please keep in mind that the explanation is not to be used as an excuse for your blowing up. There was absolutely no excuse for that kind of behavior, you’re an adult. If need be, please check out some communication seminars or anger management groups online.

    • avatar mayma says:

      No, the “real problem started” when the relatives behaved so rudely.  The anger was the result of cumulative rude behavior on their part.  A charitble donation is not a gift, and a charitable donation to an opposing organization is certainly not a gift.  Shaming the LW for not keeping perfect composure at all times, in every situation, is not helpful or germane to the “real problem.”  Saying that she is the one with the issue sounds like something her self-centered relatives would say.

      Even Jesus lost it, you know.

      • avatar Ariana says:

        Why are you assuming that the gift-givers were being deliberately rude? It never said anywhere that the relative knew in advance that the charity went against the beliefs of the recipient and did it anyway. If that had been the case, the LW would have mentioned the fact that the gift giver knew that in advance and did it to spite her.

        The LW also knew full well that charitable donations is the tradition of gift giving in that family, so it’s not like it was some sort of surprise. So I in this case, I believe her freaking out over something like that was a major problem in this situation. There is a big difference between being upset and having a meltdown of epic proportions in order to solve problems in a family.

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          Ariana, get a clue. It’s about as “unintentionally rude” as my aunt giving me anti-gay literature for my Christmas present. They know exactly what they’re doing.

  10. avatar Ariana says:

    LW#1: That brings back memories when I had an accident on my motorcycle. I took a right-hand turn too fast on a cold wet morning and my tires slipped. I ended up skidding sideways into the middle of the intersection trapped under my bike.

    It happened to be late in the year, so I winterized my bike for the year. The next summer I would almost have a panic attack anytime I had to lean into a right turn. My heartrate shot up and I had to slow down to the point where my bike would almost fall over from not enough momentum in order to make the turn. I then left off riding the rest of the summer season.

    The next year I signed up for a motorcycle riding skills course. This course gave me confidence again in my handling skills and basically ‘cured’ me of my right-turn phobia.

    Perhaps there are some similar bicycle safety courses that could help you. They might suggest things such as installing a loud horn on your bike, reflective best. You might also consider volunteering to lecture at some driver awareness programs at your local DMV or driving school.

    • avatar Ariana says:

      I meant reflective vest, not best 🙂

    • avatar Mary says:

      It made me think of the same thing too but in a different way. More like how close calls affect people differently. My motorcycle crash was on a really tight, positive to off camber right corner. After the adrenaline spike and the shock wore off I was able to ride home and do my normal commute to work and all that after. I think the only effect was over analyzing how I corner from there on.

      • avatar Ariana says:

        I wasn’t able to keep driving afterwards. The adrenaline made my hands shake so hard I had to leave my bike parked and take a taxi home. You’re lucky you didn’t have any lasting effects after the crash, although I don’t know what a off-camber right corner is 🙂

  11. avatar Artemesia says:

    a charitable donation is not a ‘gift’ and this is a classic example of why that is so. She needs to say ‘there is no need to give me gifts; feel free to give charitable donations instead of giving gifts, but please leave my name off of any of them. it is not a gift to me to give money in my name and get me on mailing lists of organizations I do not support.’

    a charitable donation is not a ‘gift’ — it is a smug assertion of superiority. the only example where that is not true is when donations are requested to memorialize someone and in that case it is the choice of the family not the giver where the money is to go.

    giving to an organization that the recipient disapproves of is a petty assault at worst and a passive aggressive slap in the face at best. the smug ‘you can’t dictate a gift’ really invites a pie in the face. these people are 24 caret jerks.

    • avatar Ariana says:

      I totally disagree with your last paragraph. At best, the gift was a misplaced notion, and passive-aggressive at worst.

      If you’d ever been assaulted, you wouldn’t classify someone donating money to a charity as an assault, petty or not. I find it very offensive when people misuse (and abuse) terms like assault to express their displeasure at some situation.

      In case this wasn’t clear, an except from Wikipedia:
      The specific meaning of assault… can refer to an act that causes another to apprehend immediate and personal violence, or in the more limited sense of a threat of violence caused by an immediate show of force.

      The only thing this does is dumbify the actual meaning of the word, and in the end it won’t be taken as seriously since people refer to anything that angers them as an assault.

      • avatar Joanna Snell says:

        If you had ever suffered abuse then you would not throw the term around so casually while discouraging the use of the word assault. The common law definition reads: “… an intentional act by one person that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent harmful or offensive contact.” In some jurisdictions the offensive contact can be verbal and still considered assault because of the nature of the virulence and offensiveness of the verbal attack. There may have been a little hyperbole in the post above, but to take offense at the word assault while throwing the word abuse around shows linguistic hypocrisy.

        • avatar Ariana says:

          No I put that in there in parantheses on purpose for you. You abused the word “assault’ in an attempt to ‘intentionally create apprehension in order to be offensive’ so that your point seem more extreme than it actually is.

        • avatar Ariana says:

          I hit enter too fast: Defintion of abuse includes:
          improper or excessive use or treatment

          Therefore, your use of the word assault was abuse. =P

        • avatar nancy7106 says:

          Then I guess under this looser definition, publicly and vigorously shaming a gift-giver (as LW#2 admits she did) might also be considered an “assault.”

      • avatar mac13 says:

        And to think just last week a woman near me wore so much perfume I said it was an assault on my senses. I didn’t mean to “dumbify” the word. Oh woe is me.

        • avatar Ariana says:

          Then let me make a simple contrast for you:

          It’s dumbifying if you say: Her wearing too much perfume should be treated as a petty assault (obviously meaning the legal definition of assault as in assault and battery).

          Saying something is an assault on your senses is the proper use since it is obviously not alluding to the legal definition of assault and battery.

          • avatar mac13 says:

            Well, when you disagreed with the last paragraph Artemesia’s post, it was where she had mentioned “petty assault” and “passive-aggressive slap”. You seemed to take umbrage at her metaphorical use of those phrases. I was merely pointing out that your umbrage over her use of those terms was somewhat unjustified.  In the professional world, they call that projecting.

          • avatar avast2006 says:

            Amusing that there is such wrangling from certain quarters over what does and doesn’t fit the definition of one word (“assault”) while largely allowing a free pass over what does and doesn’t fit the definition of a different word (“gift”).

  12. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #1 – Here is my take on letter #1.

    I happen to believe we are all made up of energy. I believe in Angels, spirits, that we are more than just skin and bones. It is why I can’t relate to Atheists, because I believe there is a higher power, there are aspects to life that are beyond our comprehension that can’t be quantified or dissected.

    With that said, little voices in our head are there for a reason. My sister has a real fear of driving over bridges. The lawyer I work for has a fear of bad weather. Both have had near death experiences associated with their fears. So this letter writer now has that fear of riding their bike because of a near death experience, but it “may” be a vision into what is yet to come….. Some people will say ignore that little voice and get out there and ride! I say, this is not a case of which came first, the chicken or the egg. “I had a near death experience on my bike so that must be why I am afraid now…” Is it? Or could it be that ethereal voice is warning you of what could be?

    Letter #2 – Could not disagree with Margo any more.

    The letter writer has EVERY RIGHT to say where her “financial gift” is given BECAUSE it is being given in her name. And as such, people will associate her name with the cause at issue.

    Let’s take this to the absurd degree for the sake of my argument. Let’s say a wealthy family member is a supporter of a neo Nazi group and donates $5,000 in this letter writer’s name. Would anyone really think they shouldn’t have a right to say they don’t want their name associated with this group? Of course they have a right.

    Well, what if this letter writer is liberal minded and a family member gives money to a rabid right organization that is known for discrimination and bias, as with the first example, this letter writer still has a right to say no toward having her name associated with the organization.

    This also brings up a very interesting part of the conversation about respect (or lack there of) for family members. As is the case with this letter writer, why would Katy’s family who we would assume knows her beliefs, disrespect her by doing this? IMO she had every right to come unglued and lay into them. It’s one thing when business associates or people that don’t know us “attempt” to disrespect us, but we should never expect this from our own family that supposedly know us best.

    • avatar Lym BO says:

      Furthermore, if someone donated money to an organization you don’t jive with, it could be cause for dismissal from a job, social standing, place in a religious organization, etc.
      One has every right to express what organizations are acceptable for others to donate to in their name. I’m not sure why the family wouldn’t exchange lists of favorite orgs. ???

      Has anyone thought maybe this letter is fake? Perhaps the LW donated to an organization & later found out their beliefs (or is hiding her own beliefs), she then got in trouble with someone over it & is now attempting to blame a family member for the donation.

  13. avatar Brooke Schubert says:

    LW#1-I agree with Margo, and can I please take a moment to remind drivers to PAY ATTENTION to pedestrians and cyclists?  I completely understand the frustration drivers have with bicycles and joggers who are not following the rules of the road, but in my neighborhood I will walk, jog and cycle places because I like to be outside, and I’ve almost been killed several times by people who blatantly ignore me when I have the walk sign and clearly have the right-of-way. 

    LW#2-I agree with the posters here-you have every right to control what your name is attached to.  This happened to me once when a uber-religious relative made donations in our names for Christmas to an ultra-right wing camp dedictated to ‘converting’ gays back to straight.  I’m a huge supporter of gay rights, and I made it clear to my aunt that from now on she can just leave me off of her gift list.  I also called the camp and demanded that my name be removed from the donation, as I did not make or approve it.  They agreed to do so-I think they are legally obligated to remove it if I ask.

  14. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: I think you should listen to your inner fear (it’s there for a reason) and find another form of transportation. The ongoing fear might indeed be a should-heed warning from your psyche. Don’t punish yourself further with trying to “get back on the horse.” There’s a reason we have various fear reactions (self-preservation). What I’m getting at is this likely is a premonitory fear that it could happen again — and next time you’re not just “tapped.”

    L #2: Totally agree with your reaction (the nerve of that family member!) and take Margo’s advice. Maybe next year you can give a donation to a charity in *their* name, the values of which they’re diametrically opposed to … put the shoe on the other foot.

  15. avatar Claire Saenz says:

    LW#1: Agree 100% with Margo’s advice.

    LW#2: I’d be furious if I were in your shoes, particularly if the family member who sent in the donation “in your name” knows your views. If that’s the case, then the family member didn’t give you a birthday gift: he or she gave you a slap in the face. I agree with others who’ve suggested that turnabout is fair play.

  16. avatar Skyblonde says:

    When I was in 8th grade, I was riding my bike to school and as I was crossing the freeway on-ramp (with the walk signal), a drunk driver plowed into me. My bike was bent in half, I had a concussion, and a broken ankle. The driver gave me $200 and drove away before the police came. It was one of the scariest things to ever happen to me and for years I was afraid to cross the street whether on foot or on a bike (and I didn’t get back on a bike until I was 18!). My family and friends were all very accommodating-they would hold my hand or walk between me and any cars. I am 29 now and I have just started feeling comfortable crossing streets on my own.
    The point of the above paragraph was even with therapy, it may take time to feel comfortable again. Give yourself permission to take the time you need to heal.

  17. avatar Jennifer juniper says:

    Margo is just so wrong about LW2. I would flip out too if someone gave money in my name to an organization whose values were so far away from my own. What kind of idiot do you have to be to think, ‘Hmmm, I have a lot of money and don’t need gifts so instead of giving other people gifts I’ll make donations in their name.’ That makes so little sense it’s practically inconceivable to me. It only works the other way around – you decide that you have a lot of money and don’t need anyone to give YOU a gift so you tell them instead to donate to such and such charity in your name if they must. LW” needs to explain this distinction to her family – and if they don’t get it – then they are assholes of the highest order.

  18. avatar butterfly55 says:

    LW 2, this is not a gift and may turn into a form a harassment, not just by the company they donated to but the ones that company goes on and sells your name.  I say next time “No Gifts”.

  19. avatar nancy7106 says:

    Margo is absolutely right, I’m afraid. That said, I would be just as offended as LW#2, had this happened to me. I have had people recommend books and other parenting resources to me from an organization that may very well be the same one to which LW#2 is referring. My response is always simple and polite, that I don’t share that organization’s values, and I refuse to support them in any way. I have never had anyone get angry with me. By blowing up, LW#2 handled this badly initially, but even if he/she had responded more tactfully to this relative, there’s no guarantee that the giver would have been more responsive.

    At this point, the only recourse left in a situation like this is “Thanks, but no thanks.” Since you don’t have the right to dictate what someone gives you as a gift, tell the giver that you don’t want any more “presents.” While it’s not nearly as fulfilling as the revenge fantasies everyone seems to like, it doesn’t result in an escalation of dramatic insults and it ultimately ends the problem.

    • avatar Ariana says:

      LW#2: I agree with you. I also don’t find that carrying out revenge by doing the same thing back resolves anything. I also seriously doubt that the LW would feel satisfied by doing that anyway.

      • avatar nancy7106 says:

        There is also so much that we don’t know. Often friends and family tend to assume that our politics are the same as theirs, and since it’s considered impolite to talk about divisive things like religion and politics in certain venues, these people may never know what our views are. I do believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. I’m also assuming that if there were other pertinent information that led LW#2 to believe that this “gift” resulted from anything other than generosity, that information would be in the letter. For example, if LW#2 had written, “And I’m openly gay!” I’d have a much different take on this, and I wouldn’t be so quick to assume this was just a misunderstanding.

        But now LW#2 has called out the gift giver in front of the whole family. The person’s natural reaction was probably defensiveness: “But I gave you a GIFT!” A better way to handle this would have been to take the person aside and say, “Gosh, Aunt Tillie, I really appreciate you thinking of me. But in the future, I really don’t want you to make donations in my name to a political organization.” Aunt Tillie gets to save face (because you’re not telling her that you think her beliefs are wrong) and the gift recipient doesn’t get more headaches. There are plenty of worthwhile charities out there that don’t take political sides.

        • avatar mac13 says:

          Nancy, LW#2 never received a gift. To receive something means to take possession of it. What did she ever possess? “Gosh Aunt Tillie, thanks for thinking about me”. How on earth did she think about her. Aunt Tillie thought about herself and who she wanted to give money to. If you want to take the side of making an unapproved donation to a charity is actualy a gift, you could at least give it to a non-controversial organization or take the time to find out what organizations the “gift receiver” approved of or supports.

          • avatar nancy7106 says:

            No, mac, it was a gift. Go re-read the letter: “They are in the habit of giving donations to charities rather than actual presents on gift-giving occasions…” It’s a standing tradition in LW#2’s family to make charitable donations in one another’s names, in lieu of tangible presents. While I personally think it’s an odd custom which lends itself to a lot of potential landmines, that doesn’t change that it is and was meant to be a gift. And I agree that Aunt Tillie should, could, and can donate in someone else’s name to a less polarizing cause–in fact, that’s what I wrote in my previous response, that “there are plenty of worthwhile charities out there that don’t take political sides.”

            Regardless of how anyone feels of this family’s practice, it’s rude and just plain wrong to publicly shame someone over a gift, but even if you don’t consider this a “gift,” it’s still rude and just plain wrong to publicly shame someone like this. There’s also absolutely no evidence that the giver had malicious intent. It’s more likely the person is just clueless.

          • avatar mayma says:

            It was most definitely not a gift.  Just because everyone does it, that doesn’t make it a gift. (If uncle gives you a turd, and everyone in the family calls that a gift, does that make it so?)  Just because the person is clueless, that doesn’t make it a gift either.  There is no benefit, thought or pleasure given to the recipient whatsoever.  

            The LW said not a word about “publicly shaming” anyone.  Sorry, but there’s a lot of twisting that has to go on to make the LW into the bad guy here.  The very definition of “gift” would have to be altered to make her the bad guy.  Personally, I think it’s terrible to flip accusations of “rude and just plain wrong” back on the LW, who seems to have put up with her family’s selfishness for quite some time before she hit her limit.   Everyone has a limit.

          • avatar Ariana says:

            To use your analogy, yes, it would be considered a gift if _everyone_ in the family was in the habit of giving turds. Then it would be an accepted form of gift-giving in that family. Just because you don’t consider it a gift has no relevance to the LW’s situation.

            I agree with nancy7106 in that it’s more likely the giver was clueless. My family also aren’t aware of my exactly political leanings because religion and politics are topics that aren’t discussed freely in the family.

          • avatar avast2006 says:

            Actually, I think mayma was more accurate the first time he/she described it, at the top of the thread: “you are not involved in the exchange in any way, shape or form; it is a transaction between the charity and the donor, period.”

            And again, there is the issue of who is it a gift _to_? The organization benefits from the money, the donor benefits from the tax deduction, and the supposed recipient benefits…how, exactly?

            It’s like saying, “For your birthday, I took your worst enemy out to dinner. Happy birthday, darling!” No, actually, that’s not a gift.

          • avatar nancy7106 says:

            If you’re wondering where I got the idea that LW#2 publicly shamed the gift giver (who I fondly call “Aunt Tillie”), here is where:
            “I came unglued, the stuff of real family legend.”

            To me, this says that LW#2 did this in front of the family–public–otherwise it wouldn’t be “the stuff of real family legend,” and “came unglued” sounds like a hissy fit to me. I can’t imagine she was complimentary to poor Aunt Tillie. Sounds more like LW#2 ripped her a new one, in front of everybody.

            Doing that, of course, would be “rude and just plain wrong” as I have already said.

            Ariana explained the “is it a gift” very well. If my entire family gave each other turds every year, and this were an accepted custom, then yes that is a gift.

            I do think this family should follow the train the rest of the way out of the station and just make donations–in their own names–and get together for the holidays without the pretense. There is just too much potential for misunderstandings and hurt feelings. But if LW#2 can’t convince the family to do this, then LW#2 can say “no gifts for me” to the rest of them.

          • avatar avast2006 says:

            The problem with the turd analogy is that when the donation is in alignment with the recipient’s values, then it is indeed meaningful and a positive experience for the recipient– i.e., a gift. I get the impression that most of the donations this family has been making were not of the offensive sort described in the letter.

            It’s not that the family has made a practice of giving turds. It’s more like the family always gives Almond Roca, but just this once someone thought it would be funny to fish a fresh one right out of the catbox and wrap it in gold foil.

          • avatar mac13 says:

            I read the letter several times and still don’t see where there is any mention of this taking in public or even in front of other family members. FYI just because this family likes to use the terminology of “gift” from which the recipient receives nothing; doesn’t mean it is a gift.  If I go to a wedding and give a nice gift the the bride’e sister, the bride isn’t gifted and is under no obligation to thank me or even appreciate that I took the occasion to gift someone else instead of the honorific.

  20. avatar christineb says:

    I guess I just don’t understand how a donation is a “gift.” The giver receives the benefit of the tax deduction and the receiver doesn’t get anything except a whole lot of junk mail from the organization and anyone it sells his/her name to. I will say that my grandparents always tell us at Christmas and their birthdays that they don’t need or want anything. Because I still want to do something for them I have given money in their names to a charity that they volunteered for. Since it was a gift for them, I did not take the tax deduction. However, I also called them ahead of time and asked if that would be acceptable. This just seems like someone who wants to do whatever they please under the guise of giving a gift.

    • avatar nancy7106 says:

      The whole family does this, so it’s an accepted practice. Presumably, it has also been going on for some time without any problems. I don’t get it either, but then again, other people find a lot of things desirable that I have absolutely zero interest in.

    • avatar Pinky35 says:

      I agree with you. A donation to a charity isn’t really a “gift” to the recipient unless they have asked for it or are supportive of that charity. And common courtesy would suggest that the gift giver ask the recipient what her/his favorite charity is before giving the “gift”. Giving to a charity that the recipient feels is offensive isn’t a gift at all, but a slap in the face. And the only way to resolve this now would be to polity ask the charity to take you of their mailing list. And then ask your family to not donate to that charity again in your name.

      • avatar nancy7106 says:

        No, it’s still a gift. It’s just a lousy gift.

        • avatar avast2006 says:

          Oh, it’s a gift, all right. But not to the person that you are expecting to say “Thank you” for it.

          It’s a gift to the organization, not to the person. And you have not only left the supposed gift recipient completely devoid of benefit from that “gift,” you have co-opted his name in support of a cause that he wouldn’t be caught dead associating with. The right of association is one of the ways a person takes care of their good name, and you just went and effectively smeared him.

          That kind of gift merits a two word response ending in “___ you,” all right. But the first word isn’t “Thank.”

  21. avatar zz says:

    LW#2 – When gift giving deteriorates to handing money, gift cards, or charitable donations back and forth…it’s time to stop giving gifts altogether.  Obviously, at this point, no one needs anything from any of the others.  Just get together and enjoy each other’s company.

    • avatar Ariana says:

      I would assume that in the spirit of giving, they ware wanting to share their financial blessings with charitable causes. I don’t find the idea as acting smug as some others here find it. It’s only smug if you go around and brag to others about how much you donated this year and try to one-up the others.

    • avatar nancy7106 says:

      Bingo. And if “gift” exchanges cause hurt feelings rather than warm fuzzies, that goes double.

    • avatar avast2006 says:

      The whole rationale is complete nonsense. If everybody in the group can afford to buy physical things whenever they want them, then obviously everyone in the group can fully equally afford to donate to their pet causes whenever they want to. It’s basically a way of trumping up additional gratitude where none is due, to top off a situation where the donor gets the benefits and the “recipient” gets none.

      Quite literally, I want you to thank me for giving myself a tax deduction. And if I’ve chosen my target charity poorly (or selfishly, or maliciously), I want you to thank me for slandering your good name in the process of giving myself a tax deduction. Is the nonsense sufficiently apparent yet?

  22. avatar Pinky35 says:

    One day I was walking a street in the city, like I always do on my lunch break, and when I crossed a small street, a truck turned right at the same time and pushed me down. I wasn’t run over, but I literally ran into the truck and was knocked down. The driver had a hard time seeing me because there was a van parked on the corner where he was making his right hand turn. I didn’t see him either because of the same van. I didn’t suffer any more than a bruise but I was very shaken. He was nice enough to give me his information in case I did have to go to the hospital for any reason.

    After this incident, I was very hesitant to take a walk down the same street. I tried a few times, and every time I did I would pay very close attention to the cars who might be turning right down that street and then cross. But, I would shake and be fearful every single time. It made me totally nerve racked. So, I just simply decided to take a different route on my walk and avoid that street altogether. It helped me move on, but I haven’t been back since so I don’t know if I will be okay walking down that street again. And now any time I cross ANY street, I definitely make sure I pay more attention to my surroundings.

    I have no real point here other than that I can understand where the letter writer is coming from. I don’t know how to get over that fear either. I know avoiding isn’t always the right answer so definitely go talk to someone about it and see if you can work through it. I probably should do the same.

  23. avatar JMux says:

    Am I the only one who wonders if the 2nd letter writer is more upset about the fact that everyone else is well off and only gives charity gifts?  That part isn’t particularly relevant, except for the fact that the LW seems quite resentful that they can just buy what they need.  If the relative did choose a charity that they knew the LW didn’t agree with, then that is most definitely not a gift in any way.  If it was simply because they didn’t know, then the LW was completely wrong in flying off the handle. 

    • avatar nancy7106 says:

      I don’t see it, no.

    • avatar Brigid says:

      The letter writer states that it is a “lovely and generous tradition” and goes on to state that this is a practical choice because every one in the family can easily afford anything they need, which means there may be little need for baubles and gifts. I don’t see resent in that, when the writer makes a clear effort to say that the tradition is nice.

  24. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW2: And when you send the “take me off your list” note, be sure to send a copy to your oafish relatives who gifted you.

  25. avatar Diane Shaw says:

    Ltr. #2, Re: Gift Giving – In this family, this seems to be the “gift-giving” arrangement, so whether giving a donation in one’s name constitutes an actual gift or not is a moot point. While I completely understand the LW’s reaction, coming unglued is not the answer. My suggestion would be to call a family meeting, if able, or maybe a group email, and see if boundaries can be set as to what type of charities you can all agree on. Suggestions would be for legitimate cancer, children, or animal organizations. Maybe someone in the family has a rare genetic disorder that a donation to research for it might be nice, or a new school is being built and you can buy a “brick” as part of their fund-raising efforts. Personally, I appreciate getting charity donations in my name – beats having to find a spot to set something on.

    • avatar avast2006 says:

      If they want the “gift” to be meaningful to the “recipient,” then there should be no question that the donor should donate to a charity that at least meets the recipient’s approval. Otherwise the gift is meaningful, alright, but in exactly the wrong way.

      If this is the family’s chosen custom, then it should be no problem for everyone to submit a list of the charities that they each choose to support, and it should be no problem for each gift giver to consult that list, and give in accordance with the recipient’s wishes — not in defiance or disregard of them.

      I understand the donor’s reaction (“you can’t dictate the gifts you receive!”) to be defensiveness on being yelled at, but to stand behind a donation that you now know the recipient finds offensive is basically to say, “Your opinion does not matter to me. Take the damn gift and shut up.” That is hardly the spirit in which to give a gift. Would you send a Christmas turkey to a vegan, and expect him to be gracious about it? If the donor didn’t know the recipient’s preferences, he should apologize for the inappropriateness — and Letter Writer should apologize for the blowout, and the whole family should get those lists ready, so it doesn’t happen again. If he _did_ know, he should apologize for being a passive-aggressive cretin. (And Letter Writer doesn’t owe any apology in return).

  26. avatar Dani Smith says:

    Do people not realize how they sound when they talk about being “anti pro-life” ?? “I came unglued because that organization is for the idea of life!” May as well say you’re a Satanist.

    • avatar butterfly55 says:

      Do “pro-lifers” not think about the fact that there is something beyond the birth?  Most of these same people are the ones who are against child care, health care, education, stopping wars, all the way to care for the elderly.  You worry about getting into a woman’s body when it is none of your business but do not worry enough about carry for the people already here in this world.  That sounds more like Satan to me.

  27. avatar Hellster says:

    LW #2, why don’t you just say, “Hey, this stinks! I want a real gift, none of this ‘a donation has been made in your name’ crap! It’s all right for you guys, but I’m not as rich as you, and I could really USE a Snuggie, or a Little Gem Donut Maker, or an “Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader,” even. If you can’t even give me something like that, don’t bother donating in my name to the ‘Right-Wing Foetus-Worshippers!'” I guarantee you’ll never be bothered with gifts, wanted or unwanted, again.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      Or try this: “Hey everyone, I donated YOUR TIME to spend with me at the AIDS clinic this year on Fifth Street. We’re going to spend four hours passing out safe-sex literature and free condoms and dental dams. It will be fun—I can’t wait to see all of you there, and Merry Christmas!”

    • avatar Brigid says:

      Hellster where on earth did you get that idea? The writer is only saying that s/he didn’t want a gift to go to a charity that was offensive, personally. The letter writer never says it would be better if a toaster had ben received, or makes it clear that s/he is angling for material goods.

      • avatar Hellster says:

        Not sure what idea you’re referring to, Brigid . . .? I didn’t suggest that the writer is angling for material goods, I suggested a tactic that should ensure she never has to get another present from these people again. Period.

  28. avatar Kordell70 says:

    LW2: I too was in this situation. A friend of mine donated $1,000 in my name to an organization for which I wanted no affiliation with, and he refused my request to remove my name from the donation. A solution might be to call the organization directly. While I did not agree with the beliefs of the organization, I did find that the people were very nice (they just had slightly different belief systems. They not only removed my name from the donation, but they called my friend and said that because I did not wish to be associated with their organization that they would be happy to accept the donation in another name or refund his money. My friend made a big stink about it, but the organization stood firm. My friend threatened to take back the donation. However, the secretary asked him what was more important (1) the fact that his donation may help further a cause he believe in, or (2) making a friend uncomfortable because you want to dictate that his name be associated with a cause you believe in but he does not. In the end my friend took back the money, and the secretary told him next time you donate to a cause make sure it is a cause you fully support enough that you will want the donation to be used even if a name needs to be pulled from its source and not just a way to make it appear as others share your beliefs.

    • avatar nancy7106 says:

      Wow. I’m so sorry you had to endure that. I’m not sure I could maintain a friendship with someone after an incident like that, where the offense was deliberate. A charitable donation like this puts you on the organization’s mailing list, usually for a long time. It’s like getting a magazine subscription to a periodical you hate. I can understand a clueless relative or friend doing this sort of thing accidentally, but I have no idea why someone would do that on purpose to a person they claim as a “friend.”

      I wonder how often this sort of thing happens? It sounds as if the organization handled it well. I’m glad they were friendly and helpful in this situation. While I’m sorry you went through this, I’m glad you shared your story. It’s good to know that some charities would cooperate with someone who has this type of problem.

  29. avatar Rain Song says:

    Last year for Christmas my parents requested that since they had three of everything they want and need we should send a donation to a local food bank instead of a gift. I can not support the particular food bank they suggested so I countered with the local humane societies spay/neuter fund. It was an acceptable suggestion to them.
    What Im trying to say is this sort of thing should be discussed ahead of time not sprung on someone. Offer the relatives a charity you CAN support. I would not want my name associated with any anti abortion groups or those supporting the gay agenda. My parents are the exact opposite. So we found a common ground.
    In MY case the donation is indeed a gift a requested gift. In her case I suspect a tax donation. As one person said she had zero right to come unglued and toss a tanty over it.

  30. avatar Dee Gee says:

    LW2, What your family is doing is more than passive-aggressive, it is overtly hostile. I agree with those who say to ask that person to not give gifts in your name and to not give gifts for them, either. If they continue to do so, then you might stoop to their level and give to a cause repugnant to them.

    Even as I write that, I think that fighting fire with fire is not as affective as fighting fire with water and fighting hate with love. I can think of some very hostile ways to respond to them, but I hope I’d never have to debase myself so.

  31. avatar Dee Gee says:

    The gift is supposed to be for the recipient, not the giver.

    I’m of the same mind on people who insist on saying Merry Christmas to everyone, even if they know it’s not something that person celebrates. The greeting is supposed to be for the one you greet – and not a political or religious advertisement from the Greeter.