Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Elizabeth Gilbert: "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People"

Here’s a suggested title for Elizabeth Gilbert’s next book: How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.

Of course, you know about Elizabeth Gilbert. Chances are you know too much about her.

Gilbert perfected the art of the pseudo-therapeutic memoir in her book: Eat, Pray, Love. It sold, by her estimation “a bajillion” copies and made her rich. (via Kiri Blakeley)

It didn’t make her rich like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, but it made her rich enough to feel uncomfortable around her less moneyed friends.

Since her spiritual meanderings had not prepared her to deal with the guilt that came with the wealth, so she decided to redistribute it. 

She gave her money away, first to charities, but then to her friends, to those near and dear to her, to people who, she felt, merited more money than the world had been giving them.

Gilbert explains:

I paid off my friends' credit card bills, caught them up on their mortgages, financed their dream projects, bought them plane tickets, tuition, therapy, gym memberships, vehicles.

Sometimes (well, twice), I even bought them houses. 

In her mind, she was correcting a karmic imbalance. But, she was also getting off on what she calls overgiving:

Finally, it was joyful and empowering: I was a dream facilitator, an obstacle-banisher, a life-transformer. In short: Giving away money to my friends was so much fun!

Apparently, it wasn’t so much fun for her friends. They found, as Gilbert later realized, that it was embarrassing, even humiliating.

Gilbert wasn’t just giving; she was taking away their dignity.

When you throw money at people, you are lording it over them, defining yourself by your wealth and making your friends feel like charity cases.

Gilbert does not say whether any of her friends turned down her largesse.

If they did not, they were, after all, her enablers.

For all of her spiritual gymnastics Gilbert never seems to have learned a primary rule about gift giving and social exchanges:

Never give anyone a gift that the recipient will not be able to reciprocate.

When someone has received a gift he cannot possibly reciprocate he will be thinking, every time he sees you, that he owes you far more than he can ever give you. He will feel inadequate in your presence, but he will also feel that he has failed a basic social obligation: to reciprocate a gift.

Gilbert did not understand this. She was merely trying to buy her friends’ eternal love:

She had expected:

… to be petted and feted and praised and loved unconditionally for the rest of time.

Where did she ever get this idea?

Perhaps, she got it from writing a phenomenally successful memoir.

Memoirs are about oversharing. Oversharing is like overgiving. Gilbert been feted, praised, loved and enriched for giving too much of herself to people who could never return the favor.

When you write a memoir all of your friends know much more about you than you know about them. And yet, you did not share the intimate details of your life with them; you shared it with the world entire.

If friendship is based on a reciprocal exchange of personal information, how can you, as the friend of someone who has written a memoir, ever right the balance?

And should you want to? If your friend is a memoirist you will be asking yourself whether you want to risk having your own personal information divulged in her next memoir.


Kath said...

Never wanted to read Eat, Pray and Love.. From the description, it seemed like a manual on how a wealthy New Ager should handle personal tragedy such as divorce.
Just read a review and found that she was paid in advance for her self discovery and write the book. I wonder how that works?
She sounds like a user. Maybe her friends are users too. Some of them might have discovered that her gift giving was just manipulation and fodder for a new book.
I do believe that gifts can be beneficial as long as the giver has respect for the recipient.

Sam L. said...

Did not recognize her name. The book, yes. Don't recall reading any reviews on it. Never thought to read it myself. Ships, night, passing...

CatherineM said...

I guess about 5 years ago every female friend and co-worker were raving about this book. Oprah had a few shows about it. My friends begged me to read it. It was SO GOOD.

It's drivel, but I ploughed through, waiting to get what everyone else "got." I finally put it down after the upteenth, "We didn't care if it was a boy, girl or had downs syndrome... as long as the baby is not a REPUBLICAN!" HA HA HAHA! Glad these people have their priorities straight. Then yet another apology to an Italian for the US Government. Done.

So, I never made it to India and all of her breakthroughs. I only know of the rest of her journey because of what I watched on Oprah. What I remember about Gilbert from the show is her smile. Her smile is self-important and condescending. Like Glinda, Good Witch of the North to the Munchkins.

Dennis said...

There is a drive in almost everyone of us to feel like we have met the challenges of life and succeeded. This may be affected by much of what happens in life, but it still exists no matter how downtrodden we may become.
We all know that we need others assistance, but that need is of a personal involvement and not a monetary need for the most part. It is why we almost never respect money given to us no matter the form received. If we provided a service, manufactured or did some action that deserved it we are normally accepting of how we succeeded on our own merit.
There is a cute commercial that, in a way, deals with this part of the human psyche. A little girl is just fascinated by a box, that one might suppose held a present, and finds a myriad of way of exploring it. The toy has beed overwhelmed by the possibilities of the box and the imagination of a child that it engenders.
It does not take much to extrapolate this into every day life.

Anonymous said...

Gilbert left her husband for another man. When she realized she screwed up her life and her ex-husband's she was left w/ buckets full of guilt, which quickly turned into shame b/c she hid the affair from her readers...the world.

Her extended vacation was an attempt to get rid of her shame/guilt. So is all her "gifting".


Anonymous said...

She has lot of cats,I heard