Monday, January 30, 2012

Was Facebook right to remove breastfeeding photos?

If you know me, you know how I feel about over-sharing on Facebook and other social media sites.  I've even written about people who need a Facebook intervention here. I have chosen to draw a very clear line between my personal and professional life, especially when it comes to my online activity.  There are no photos of my children on my Facebook page and there never will be, until they're old enough to have their own pages and decide for themselves.  I realize that this approach is considered extreme by some parents and while I feel strongly about this, I don't judge other parents who are more comfortable with this kind of sharing.

So I was intrigued by a recent story about a Canadian mother of three who is angry that Facebook removed her candid breastfeeding photos on the grounds that photos which contain a fully exposed breast violate their terms.  This mother has already had 20 images removed from Facebook and has had her account access revoked on four separate occasions. She claims that, by removing the photos, Facebook sends the message that breastfeeding in public not acceptable and that the natural and nourishing act of breastfeeding is shameful and should be hidden.

As a mother, I believe in breastfeeding.  I accept it as natural, nourishing and, sometimes, beautiful.  I'm amazed that nature has imbued us with everything we need to take care of our offspring and get them off to a healthy start.  I also know from personal experience and countless anecdotes from friends, that it's not always easy, is sometimes impossible and doesn't always fit in to the lifestyle of a new mother.  I believe that every mother has a choice and though your choice might not be my choice, I wouldn't tell any new mother there is a right way and a wrong way to feed her baby.

As a person who is passionate about discretion, I tried to avoid breastfeeding in public but as any new mom knows, babies decide when they're hungry.  So when it was necessary, I looked for a private area and covered up as much as possible.  I didn't do this because I thought it was embarrassing, unnatural, or shameful. I did it because I am not personally comfortable revealing that much of myself in public and I was also sensitive to the discomfort of those around me in a public setting such as a restaurant or family gathering.  So, after reading the article, I tweeted a link to to it and asked if it was really necessary to share such explicit photos. I soon learned that this is a very sensitive issue with the propensity to get muddled very quickly.  I was immediately bombarded with tweets from activists on what a wonderful, natural and beautiful thing breastfeeding is and how questions like mine just serve to continue the cycle of shame associated with doing it in public. Of course, I had never questioned its nature, beauty or wonder but in questioning it at all, I was perceived to be against it.  The discourse on this story, in forums and comments boards, contains much of the same sentiment even though, to me and many others, the question was never about the value of breastfeeding but rather, if Facebook was the best forum for such an intimate conversation and if it was fair to insist that Facebook, a private company, adapt its policies to appease its users.

I know that it is fruitless to argue with people whose intention is not to share another perspective but to change your opinion so I asked for more information to help me see what I was missing.  I was told that Facebook is the perfect forum for this because we need to "normalize" breastfeeding in our culture.  As a mother who has given birth twice in the last decade, I had assumed that breastfeeding was already normalized, in Ontario anyway.  I started to receive breastfeeding education (formally and informally) the minute my first pregnancy was confirmed and the barrage of information, tips, advice and guidance didn't stop until well after I delivered my first child.  Shortly after the birth of my second child, I was hospitalized for an infection.  This made breastfeeding very difficult and my son quickly lost a lot of weight.  Even then, I was surrounded by health care professionals who insisted that I continue to breastfeed -- through illness, fever and delirium -- when my every instinct was telling me that the child just needed to be fed and the source of the food was not important. This experience convinced me that breastfeeding is firmly established in our culture.

So, I'm torn about this issue.  If, as the advocates claim, there are women in Canada who don't have any access to breastfeeding information and who might turn to Facebook as their only source for tips on how to do it successfully, I guess photos like this help and Facebook should learn to tell the difference between exposed breasts that are pornographic in nature and those that are performing the most natural of functions.  On the other hand, my natural penchant towards discretion tells me that just because something is natural doesn't mean everyone in my circle needs to see it. My days feature many "natural" occurrences and some things that could be deemed "beautiful" but most of them are private.  I might share bits and pieces in the company of close friends but I wouldn't feel comfortable making them public to all my friends, acquaintances and business associates. But that's me.

In chatting with people about this story, I've realized that it's a polarizing topic.  Few people sit on the proverbial fence when it comes to the need to "normalize" breastfeeding.  For the most part, people are in one of two camps, only distinguished by the degree to which they believe they are right.  I've since heard that in the wake of overwhelming outcry, Facebook has apologized to the mother in question and I supposed that, in the end, like all things social media, the public will decide what is and isn't appropriate.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ten Surprising Things I Learned While Running My Own Business

For eight years, I co-owned a successful Toronto PR agency.  At its peak, we had 13 employees and a nice portfolio of global brands and local start-ups.  I’m a freelancer now but I often draw upon the lessons I learned at the helm of a “real” enterprise.  Some of them might be interesting for you if you’re running a small business or thinking about it:

1. The business is always with you - A small business is like a child.  It’s just as demanding and it needs you 24-7.  It makes you work on your days off and puts a damper on your vacations.  It wakes you up early and whispers to you when you’re sleeping.  It's unpredictable and just when you think you've got it figured out, it hits you with the office equivalent of teething pain. 

2. Rules are not a bad thing - When you start, it's tempting to eschew boring, restrictive things like time sheets, office hours and signed contracts but eventually you will need them and they are a lot harder to introduce later on.  Take the time to develop processes for your office, your employees and your clients.  You won't alwyas look at them when things are good but you'll rely on them when relationships sour.

3. When you are responsible for someone's livelihood, you make decisions you wouldn't make as an independent - We all know when a client isn't a good fit or when it's time to turn down another low-paying account.  And when it's just you, you can do that.  But when people are relying on you to pay the bills, you will sometimes compromise to keep the cash flowing.

4. Management theorists are not always right - There is no shortage of business gurus peddling their books, preaching about swimming with sharks and getting out of your comfort zone.  The thing is, most of them aren't actually running a small business and some have never even worked in a corporate setting.  Read the books, stay abreast of the trends but remember, the concepts are theoretical.

5. You can't lead without a map - When finding clients is your main focus, it's easy to forget about business goals that aren't related to sales.  While you don't need a sophisticated vision/mission statement, you do need a plan for the kind of company you want to create.  If you don't have a roadmap for growing your business, someone else will grow it for you, and not necessarily in the way you envision.

6. You can't do everything - This is one of the toughest lessons for business owners to learn, especially in a consulting business where human capital is the equity.  The only way to expand is to hire other people, train them, trust them and let them sink or swim.  Yes, mistakes will be made but if you micromanage, you will never get out of the office. Note: I'm not sure I ever perfected this.

7. You won't believe the paperwork - Until you are big enough to pay someone to take care of your non-core business, you will be a CEO, HR director, accountant, procurement officer and sales director and you'll be up to your ears in tax forms, leasing agreements, photocopier rentals, paycheques,  invoices, IT upgrades, and, sadly, termination papers. 

8. Never count your chickens before they hatch - Nothing is confirmed until everyone signs on the dotted line.  People will accept job offers and then change their minds.  Potential clients will ask you to spend hours on a proposal only to decide they're going to handle things in-house.  And people will tell you the cheque is in the mail when it's still on their desk.  Be conservative in your projections.

9. Things move much slower than you anticipate - Occasionally you'll get a new client who needs you to start immediately, but more often, the sales cycle is glacially slow and there can be a few months from a first meeting to winning the business to working on the account to seeing that first cheque.

And most importantly...

10. If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't right - You will know within a couple of months if something isn't working whether it's a project, a new employee or a new office process.  But no one wants to admit they made a mistake so you hold on and hope that things will change.  They rarely do and you end up having a tough conversation two years later than you should have.  Follow your instincts.  They're what got you where you are. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tipping wait staff - obligation or nicety?

They seem happy.  I wonder how much they'll leave me...

There has been a lot of discussion in Toronto media lately about whether the standard restaurant tip should go up to the Manhattan standard of 20 per cent from the current standard 15 per cent so I thought I'd sort out some of the misinformation that's out there from an etiquette point of view.  

Before I begin, let me say that I worked as a waitress in a very busy restaurant for about a year so I am well aware of the rigours of the job - the hours on your feet, the demanding customers, the heavy trays, a pace that is often so frantic, you don't even have time to eat.  Despite this, I considered it to be a great job at the time because the tips I earned offset the hourly minimum wage I was receiving. I was also fitter than any other time in my life, but I digress.

The point is, I considered myself very lucky to be in a job that involved tips because I had many friends who were also working in minimum wage jobs in retail and clerical environments who didn't receive any tips at all.  That said, I knew that the size of the tip, if one was given, depended on the diner.  For the most part, the harder I hustled, the higher my tips but there were no guarantees. Sometimes I provided amazing service and got nothing.  That's life.  Now that I've been in the workforce for two decades I believe that every job is hard, every job has challenges and every job has aspects of it that make you feel unappreciated and disrespected.  No single profession or industry has a monopoly on hard work. 

A little about the history of this practice.  Tipping started in the taverns of 17th century England when thirsty patrons would slip bartenders a bit of extra money "to ensure promptitude" (the origin of the word, T.I.P).  It migrated to North America in the 1800s and, while it had a bit of a bumpy start, it is now widespread and even expected here. 

The practice of tipping varies among cultures.  In some countries, it is not expected at all and in others it makes up the bulk of the server's pay.  In some U.S. states, restaurant owners are allowed to pay wait staff less than minimum wage so that patrons can "make up" the remainder of their salary through tips which seems unethical.  Here in Canada, restaurant servers have to receive at least minimum wage and many of them rely upon tips to pad their take-home pay.  Culturally, refusing to leave a tip or leaving an amount considered less than appropriate, is often seen as cheap or insensitive and will often bring on the wrath of your dining companions. 

The standard tip in Toronto is about 15 per cent of the pre-tax bill although I have certainly been in situations where I've rounded it up to 20 per cent for ease of calculation or to recognize outstanding service.  Although using percentages is simple, it bases the tip on the size of the bill, rather than the quality of the service which is not necessarily the fairest approach.  A family with kids could easily use up a lot more of a waiter's time on a $50 dinner than a couple might use on a $100 dinner.  

Although tipping is commonplace in Toronto, it's important to remember that it shouldn't feel like an obligation and the amount itself is technically also at the patron's discretion, although most will abide by the standard.  Some restaurants get around this by automatically adding a tip (gratuity) to tables of eight or more.  Although I've never complained, this doesn't sit quite right with me as it turns the tip into a non-negotiable transaction rather than a gift for a job well done.  According to a recent Toronto Star article, a growing number of restaurants in Toronto have reprogrammed their debit and credit machines to prompt patrons to include a 20 per cent tip.  According to owners, many guests have welcomed the change but there is a presumptuous air about it which doesn't account for the fact that the tip is technically optional and the amount should be based on the quality of the service.  

As when I was working as a waitress, there are still many people today making minimum wage in jobs which don't provide any tips.  Most of the time, these jobs are no less grueling or demanding.  There is just no cultural expectation built up around how they are rewarded.

Over 20 years of dining out, I have had outstanding service and I have had crappy service.  I have waited for 15 minutes to even be acknowledged and I have been plagued by over-zealous  staff who are at the table every two minutes. I have had friendly, service-oriented waiters who genuinely want to enhance my experience and sullen, bored ones who seemed like they couldn't wait to get home.  Even after my worst experiences, I have never had the nerve to leave nothing.  In the end, guilt or the opinion of my tablemates gets to me and I begrudgingly give something.  On the flip side, I have occasionally provided 25 per cent tips when the service warranted it.  This is as it should be.

I'd love to hear your opinions on this, where you stand, how you approach tipping.  And, while I did my research before writing this and based it on my own experience, if I'm missing a big piece of the information pie or some important context, please enlighten me.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Beyonce's Blinged-Out Birthing Experience Annoys "Normal" Moms

The chosen one has arrived...and she's creating quite a stir

People are often surprised when I tell them that the definition of etiquette is "to increase the comfort level of those around you".  They always assume it is much more complicated than this but it makes sense if you think about it.  When people are practicing poor etiquette, either on purpose or inadvertently, they have temporarily forgotten about the people around them.

Inconveniencing others, putting them out, making their life uncomfortable, increasing their frustration - this is the natural result of going through life without thinking about the impact that your actions have on those around you.

Even when we're experiencing the biggest day of our life, whether it's our senior prom, wedding day or the birth of our first child, we still need to remember that we're not alone in the world.  Through choice or circumstance, many others are sharing our orbit.

So, I was sad (but not surprised) to hear of the shenanigans that took place at Brooklyn's Lennox Hill Hospital in the wake of the blessed event that was the birth of Beyonce's first child, Ivy Blue Carter.  There are conflicting reports but the gist of it seems to be that, in an effort to protect their privacy, Beyonce and her husband, Jay-Z (real name Shaun Carter) paid the hospital to construct or retrofit two luxury birthing suites so they were more reflective of a high-end spa and not a healthcare environment.  Okay, I can see this I guess. Huge celebrities are not accustomed to rolling like the rest of us (especially here in Ontario where money can't buy a better birthing experience) and they wouldn't want to taint Ivy Blue's view of the world by having her arrive in a run-of-the-mill hospital room.

However, in an effort to protect their privacy (and perhaps to treat the event with the gravitas they felt it deserved), the couple also had a flotilla of secret-service-type security, body guards, massage therapists and other "wellness" specialists who basically took over the whole floor. In the words of a new mother who had the misfortune to give birth at the same time, "no other pregnancy mattered" and apparently, things became so difficult that one couple of premature twins were prevented from seeing their babies and extended family members of other newborns were told that the floor was "on lock-down" when they arrived.  Any new parent will tell you that the process of giving birth is emotional enough without having to deal with another delivery on the floor that is deemed much, much more important than your own.

While I appreciate that the rich and famous may have a greater need to protect their privacy than the average citizen, let's not forget that Beyonce chose to announce her pregnancy at a very public event (the VMAs), drawing attention to herself and effectively eclipsing all other news from the event.  But, if your desire (fact or fiction) for privacy is so strong and you have unlimited financial resources, wouldn't it be better just to have the baby at home?  I'm sure that they could have arranged for all of the necessary medical personnel and equipment to ensure a safe and smooth delivery.

A spokesperson for the hospital claims that the hospital tried to minimize the disruption to their other parents and denied that there were any problems but the stories of mistreatment continue to come out.

It doesn't matter who you are.  When you make decisions, you need to take into account how they will affect others.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Whatever happened to good old-fashioned shame?

I'm so embarrassed...

About fifteen years ago I had a job that was very important in terms of my career development.  I wasn't 100 per cent qualified according to the job description but my boss saw some hidden potential in me and took a chance on my future success.  He turned out to be a great leader and I have a tremendous amount of respect for this person and for his commitment to the role, which he still holds today.  I desperately wanted to impress him and to prove that hiring me was the right decision. But I wasn't perfect, and like everyone else, I screwed up from time to time.  When this happened, and especially if it was due to negligence, laziness or carelessness on my part, I was mortified, apologized for my role in the mix-up and asked what I could do to fix things.  Later, in the privacy of my own home, I would watch TV in bed, eat most of a medium pizza, down a bottle of wine and go to sleep feeling miserable. This was how I coped with the shame of letting down not only my boss but also myself. The next day I would clean myself up, dust myself off and start all over again, vowing never again to make the same mistake and keeping a somewhat low profile until I had "proven" myself again.  In this case, shame was a case of short-term pain, long-term gain.  It was a powerful motivator to be more aware, try harder and do better.

This kind of shame is not something I consciously set out to experience.  Thanks to a combination of innate personality and strict upbringing, I'm somewhat hardwired to feel shame when I screw up and even now, when I forget to bring the dessert to a family potluck or my kids tell their dentist that they don't floss regularly, I feel the heat of shame and embarrassment rise from my neck to my forehead.

Imagine my surprise then in my first management role when I learned that some people are not ashamed when they screw up and worse still, most are not even embarrassed.  One of the toughest things for a manager is the realization that what motivated you to succeed is not necessarily the same thing that will motivate one of your employees and in fact, you need to learn what motivates each person in order to properly lead them.  For some it's public recognition, for others its money or a new title and there are some people who will only work hard in exchange for something tangible like the privilege of working from home.  I can accept this but up until then, I had been labouring under the misconception that the concept of shame was universal and could always be relied upon to help people improve.

Not so. But the concept of screwing up is universal and no one is immune to it.  It's human and in the fast-paced environment of a PR agency, it's probably inevitable.  So, the first time I called someone on the carpet for a screw-up caused by their failure to properly proofread, double-check details or use sound judgement, I expected that they would be appropriately shamed, would deal with it in whatever way worked for them (not everyone has to eat an entire pizza after all) and come back the next day with a renewed passion for excellence.  But the person just smiled, shrugged her shoulders and said, "These things happen".  I was so ill-equipped for this response that I reacted with stunned silence followed by yelling, which was not my intention at all.  While some of the people I've worked with have shared my proclivity for actually being embarrassed by their gaffes, it seems that nowadays, most don't, or if they do, they don't show it in any discernible way.

Shame has fallen out of fashion in the past few decades.  A major tool in the disciplinary arsenal of my parents' generation, it has been cast aside for more modern, humane methods like talking it out, boosting self-esteem and putting the blame elsewhere. There was some method to this madness.  A couple of decades of psychoanalysis revealed that carrying around shameful reminders of childhood transgressions was having a serious impact on many adults' ability to live a fulfilling, guilt-free life.   John Bradshaw, author of the New York Times bestselling book, Healing the Shame that Binds You, explains that there are two kinds of shame - healthy shame and toxic shame.  Healthy shame is what helps us get along with other people, prevents us from going through life as a total narcissist and, used properly, can be a force for positive growth. We need a little of this in our lives.

Toxic shame, on the other hand is often guilt-based and makes us feel bad about how we look or feel, where we were born, how we were raised, our religion, or our sexuality. When the baby boomers ushered in the self-esteem movement, they were right to try to rid society of toxic shame.  Whether it's imposed by others or self-imposed, it has no useful function and indeed, paralyzes many sufferers well into adulthood. The problem is, in attempting to rid ourselves of the pain of toxic shame, we threw the baby out with the bathwater and ditched healthy shame at the same time.  The pendulum has swung too far and we're now living in an age of self-revelation where doing anything in public is acceptable.  Rather than take accountability for their actions, criminals blame their childhood, their stress level, the economy, Wall Street.  Fame-hungry reality stars compete in lewd and degrading competitions desperate to extend their 15 minutes of infamy.  Teenagers videotape themselves or others behaving badly and then share it on Facebook for all to see.

I think it's time to embrace a return to healthy shame for the good of society.  Just imagine, in a world where people are shamed for their embarrassing behaviour, there would be no Keeping Up With the Kardashians, no Wall Street banking tycoons still holding jobs, no people having loud inane cell phone conversations in public and no politicians emailing photos of their genitalia to interns.  This is something I can get behind.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Occupy Can Learn from the Volunteers Who Cleaned Up Their Mess

Photo: BlogTO

I have the same reservations with organized protest movements that I have with organized religion.  While each has a noble agenda and many good people trying to do good things, they are too often plagued by hypocrisy and infiltrated by rogues who do more harm than good..  When I say this to followers, their response is that this shouldn't be a deterrent to joining.  So what if some Christian leaders have complete disregard for the teachings of Jesus?  So what if the supposedly anti-capitalist Occupy protesters are drinking Starbucks and wearing Timberlands?  "You have to take the good with the bad," they claim. "If we only support movements comprising honest, decent people with integrity, nothing will ever get done."

I suppose there is some validity in that. The civil rights movement and the Arab Spring probably included some of those annoying professional protesters who were just there for the action and didn't help to advance the agendas but the movements as a whole still had tremendous impact and affected real change.  But, even when I strongly believe in a cause, I just don't feel comfortable standing side-by-side with people who I know are not really committed and what's more, are actually making life worse for those they claim to support.  Instead of spending my Saturday hanging out in a soggy downtown park, I'd rather be at home teaching my kids the values of equality.  It seems like it has more of an impact to impart these lessons to a generation of future leaders.  Maybe the 1 % never heard that from their parents and that's how they ended up destroying the pensions of millions of people while they laughed all the way to the bank.

While I agreed in principle with many of the Occupy movement's positions, I had to do my own exhaustive research to find out what they were and felt it did a poor job of articulating them or rallying support, especially here in Toronto.  It also irritated me that some of them seemed to be operating on the principle that anyone who didn't join them was automatically against them. This is not the case.  In fact, most people I spoke to were sympathetic to their cause or at least understood the basis of it.  But for many reasons, none of which they should be forced to justify, they didn't go downtown and participate.

Rather than shaming the denizens of Bay Street who were safely ensconced a few blocks west, the Occupy Toronto movement took over St. James park and mostly annoyed citizens who live and work near the area, playing bongos at all hours of the night and day and making it hard, if not impossible for nearby families to enjoy the park.  As the protesters seemed to have a lot of free time, many Torontonians wondered if their free time wouldn't have been better spent volunteering in a soup kitchen or helping the homeless.  When they were finally evicted after 40 days, they left worn tents, clothing, books, signs and bikes mired in 9,000 square metres of mud.  What was once a park was now a quagmire.  The city pegged the cost to clean up and re-sod the park and fix the gazebo at $150,000.  To offset the cost to taxpayers (most of whom are among the 99 % the protesters were supposedly helping), the mayor asked for donations of time and cash to help.

Enter Canadian landscape professionals.  In response to the mayor's request, an army of volunteer landscapers converged upon the park to ensure that local families will have grass to enjoy in the spring.  Led by Kyle Tobin, founder at LawnSavers Plant Health Care Inc. they acted quickly to harvest 10,000 rolls of sod, truck it to the park on 12 flatbed trucks and work with volunteers to lay 250 cubic yards of soil as a foundation for the sod.  Tobin donated the sod (about $30,000 worth), EarthCo donated $10,000 worth of soil and 200 volunteers donated their time to lay it properly.

So hundreds of Occupy protesters messed up the park in the name of equality and hundreds of volunteers fixed it in the name of just doing what needed to be done.  I'm not suggesting that the protesters intended to destroy the grass but it is the natural consequence of camping out anywhere 24-7 and one of the reasons I would not feel comfortable participating in such a thing.  The clean-up volunteers, many of whom probably don't live in the surrounding neighbourhood, were motivated by nothing other than the desire to see more green space and for families to have a park to go to when the snow disappears. And you can bet that the vast majority of the volunteers, if not all, are members of the 99 %, not the 1 %.  The semantics are not important to them. They saw a need and they responded without rhetoric, grandstanding or fanfare.  The Occupy protesters could learn a thing or two about actually helping people from them.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Is it poor etiquette to sell your unwanted gifts on e-Bay?

"I Love It.  It's Just What I Wanted..."

Opening gifts in front of the person who gave them to us, is always a bit nerve-wracking.  As you work away at the wrapping, the gift-giver's anticipation is palpable.  You can just feel their desire for you to love it, their wish that this year, they've hit a home run.  As you get closer to the big reveal, you steel yourself for a case of lunchbox letdown.  If you already have an "appropriate" gift in mind, say an engagement ring, the stakes are even higher and your disappointment will be even greater if what's in the box is not what you expected.  Even if you have no preconceived notions of what you would like, there's still a chance that the present will be hideous, unusable, or inappropriate (in your opinion at least).  To save face and avoid hurt feelings, most of us have perfected our "I love it" gift face over time.  Even if what we're feeling inside is more like, "I won't be caught dead in this thing" we slap on a smile, tell the person it's perfect and give them an appreciative hug.  As a gift-giver, I have been on the receiving end of many of these forced smiles and I can tell you, I always know they're faking and I'm always hurt.

Today, regifting is common and, as long as proper etiquette is followed (e.g. don't give it back to the person who gave it to you), it is considered acceptable social behaviour.  Although I've indulged in regifting impersonal items like chocolates and wine, I've never been able to do it when it involves a gift that someone put an effort into choosing because I know how I feel when the tables are turned.  If someone tells me they'd like to exchange a gift I bought them, I smile, hand over the receipt and mumble something about wanting them to be satisfied but inside, I'm usually quite hurt, especially if I spent a lot of time picking a gift I thought they would love. It's possible that the people who have given me gifts I don't like do not feel the same way.   Maybe they see gift-giving as a crap-shoot and are not offended if someone doesn't like their gift.  Maybe they prefer to have the person exchange it for something they would like over stuffing it into the back of a closet. But, I can only approach it from my point of view and I always take it personally.  Besides, when gifts come from certain people (e.g. my husband), I instantly love it even if it's something I would never choose for myself.  I love it because he picked it and wearing it is symbolic of our relationship.

So I was surprised and saddened to read over the holidays that, while all other retail outlets experience a post-holiday sales slump, e-Bay and kijiji, are swamped with people intent on converting their unwanted Christmas gifts into cash.  Both sites apparently received a steady stream of new posting of electronic and apparel items in the days after December 25th with some people unloading unwanted gifts mere hours after receiving them.  As explained in the previous paragraph, I am somewhat sentimental about gift-giving and that colours my view but to me, there is a certain callousness to this practice that just didn't feel right.  It turns the tradition of gift-giving into a transaction where people believe they deserve to get whatever they want or at the very least, the post-retail cash value of what they received.  One young woman quoted in the article said that she had "earned" $400 last year by converting Christmas gifts into cash and to make unloading unwanted presents easier, e-Bay has created a mobile app that allows disappointed gift recipients to take a picture of something immediately after opening it so they can create an instant listing.

Some would say taking to the Internet to dispose of unwanted goods is a positive development.  Maybe in this over-cluttered age of hyper-consumerism, there's no good reason for us to store things we neither need nor want. If we're going to unload a present anyway, perhaps it's more sensitive to the gift-giver to do it anonymously behind the veil of our e-Bay avatars rather than fess up that we hate it.  I guess, if I really think about it, it's the haste that disturbs me and I'm not alone.  One of my favourite authors, Alexander McCall Smith, suggests we wait at least a month and then, if we still don't want it, give it away or sell it with the proceeds going to charity.  Like me, he's uncomfortable with the notion of selling it purely for profit.

Personally, I don't think we can trust our immediate reactions when it comes to gifts.  We might feel that it's ghastly or wildly inappropriate but maybe we should let it marinate for a while.  I have a few cherished items on my mantle, in my closet and in my jewellery box that were gifts from people who knew me better than I knew myself at the time. I was disappointed when I opened them but I grew to love them and over the years, they have become a connection between me and the gift-givers, some of whom are now deceased.  I would never get to experience that if I had immediately tried to get rid of it.

What do you think about selling unwanted holiday gifts? Smart solution or etiquette faux pas?