Why Naming Our Gifts Matters

Updated: Feb 15

The Hopeful Neighborhood Project has spent much time and energy helping people name what gifts they have. This has included conducting nation-wide research and building a reliable, easy-to-use gift inventory called EveryGift.

But why? Why is it so important that we recognize and name the gifts that we possess? In The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, John McKnight and Peter Block suggest an answer as they discuss the role of gifts in a competent community:

“We begin to see that the neighborhood is a treasure chest. By opening the chest and putting the gifts together in many different ways, we multiply the power of its riches. A competent community builds on the gifts of its people. It knows that a gift is not a gift until it is given. Before it is given, it is only a beautifully wrapped box in a drawer. It is a capacity held in exile. Gifts need to be named and exchanged, not only to create a competent community, but also to create a functioning family. This is a family that has discovered its capacity to produce for itself, together with a competent community, all that is required for a truly good life, a satisfying life.”

At the Hopeful Neighborhood Project, we believe that everyone is a gift with gifts to share. But, as McKnight and Block point out, if we don’t name and exchange those gifts they remain “in exile.” They aren’t really gifts unless they are given.

And how can you give of your gifts if you don’t know what they are? How can people exchange their gifts with each other unless they are conscious of their own gifts? This is where the importance of naming gifts comes in.

The problem is that many of us take our gifts for granted. We have become “homeblind” to many of the gifts we possess. How does homeblindness work? The mechanically-gifted retiree has always found it easy to tinker with and fix anything. He just assumes this prowess is commonplace. The tech-savvy young professional naturally navigates her various screens and devices. She just assumes this is something anyone can do.

Let’s imagine this retiree and young professional live in the same apartment complex, perhaps even next door to each other. Maybe they have learned each other’s names and even wave and greet each other when coming and going from their apartments. Perhaps this neighborly cordiality is all they think is possible between neighbors of vastly different ages, despite the fact that the retiree can’t figure out how to do a video call with his grandkids on the smart phone his kids got him for Christmas and the young professional has no idea why the engine light in her car just came on or what to do about it.

What a sad irony it would be if these two happened to wave politely at each other as they left their apartments to go pay professionals (at a tech store and a car repair shop) to help them—when they could easily help each other!

But what if that same retiree goes through a process (like the EveryGift Inventory) that helps him realize that he has technical gifts—something he’s never really acknowledged or named in an explicit way like that. This discovery process makes him realize his ability with mechanical devices has been like “a beautifully wrapped box in a drawer.” What if the young professional does the same and realizes her technical skills have been “in exile” all this time. Armed with this awareness, they happen to mention in passing to their neighbors: “By the way, if you ever need help with your car/technology let me know… I’d be glad to help out.”

Gifts need to be named and exchanged. Not only does this help others around us (the young professional’s car gets fixed, the retiree can make video calls with his grandkids), it also enriches our relationships and sense of community.

But all of that starts with overcoming our homeblindness and becoming more conscious of the beautifully wrapped presents we have sitting around, unused. How about you? Do you have a sense of all the gifts you have? Did you know there are twelve distinct gift types? Who knows what wonderful exchanges spending less than twenty minutes exploring your gifts might unleash in your own neighborhood? You could find out by taking the EveryGift Inventory yourself.

(Excerpt for this blog from The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods by John McKnight and Peter Block, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2010.)

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