Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Misunderstanding Xmas Shopping

Tibor R. Machan

You get it from all sides around this time of the year—"Xmas has become too commercial, too materialistic, lost its spirituality, blah, blah, blah." At the same time,
of course, we also hear a lot of people urging us to be generous, give of
ourselves, give to those who are in need, etc.

As the old sage Aristotle taught, however, there is no way to be generous
unless one owns stuff, unless one refuses to do what governments
like to do, namely first steal from people and then turn a bit of it over
to some other people. Not a pretty picture!

So in order to be generous, to give of ourselves, first we must go out
and buy or otherwise honestly obtain things. That's where shopping comes in. And not
only does shopping provide us with what we can purchase and then give away out of our
generosity but it provides those from whom we do the shopping with enough
wealth to enable them to be generous and to give of themselves. Quite the pretty merry-go-round, don't you think?

So what’s supposed to be so bad about all this? Clearly it is very satisfying to find
just the right gift for those whom we wish to benefit, people we love or
like a lot. We need to learn a bit about them, we need to know what it is
that will please them. Each time of gift-giving faces us with the
challenge of finding something that will in fact please the recipient of
our gifts. And the reward is the joy in their voices and eyes when they
open a thoughtful gift. My own children are masters of this craft, having
for years been very attentive to what it is that pleases me and coming up
with truly apt presents ones that not only please me but prompt me to see
them in a renewed light, as rather ingenious gift finders.

Commerce is not a necessary evil sideshow here but of the essence, what
with the market place’s enormous variety of offerings so all the millions
of diverse needs and wants can in principle be satisfied (provided we do
put in some care about what we set out to find for those to whom we give
gifts). But of course the market-haters don’t care about this. They jump
at the chance of besmirching markets even as they are a vital, necessary
part of generous giving and receiving. Even those who do not give a hoot
about Christmas, who ordinarily scoff at religious holidays, will exploit
the opportunity to belittle the way the holiday is in part being
celebrated, namely, through the exchange of gifts that commerce
facilitates so well.

Who can deny that anything can be corrupted, and there are those who look
upon the whole thing in a way that renders it but some routine
undertaking, even a chore. But that’s not the way to judge the occasion,
by how the lazy people carry on about it. Those who give gifts from mere
habit, put no mind to the task, write cards to a list on which are names
they cannot even recall. However, to focus on such folks is to reveal
one’s basic cynicism. They bring their own misery upon themselves and need
not be bothered with, I beleive.

I do not think it is an accident that so many major religious have
managed to locate some big holidays around Xmas time. I see this as
motivated mainly from the desire to celebrate together, to take part in a common
feeling that has extended over billions across the world, the feeling that
generosity toward those for whom we care is wonderful and it is also
wonderful to know how many other human beings recognize this fact. That
there are commercial elements to it, that generate the ability of more
and more people to take part in the celebration and joy, that’s all to
the good.

So, go away you nay-sayers who want to ruin it for the rest of us by
working so hard to induce guilt in us all with all this finger wagging about our
commercialism and materialism. There is nothing at all wrong with giving and obtaining
material goods, generating all this giving and getting among our family and friends, provided these goods are thoughtfully chosen and bring their providers and recipients pleasure. Moreover, if you think but for a moment you will realize that all those material goods
have, in fact, a great deal of human spirit giving them a great variety of
shapes and forms, so the fact of their being "material" hardly comes to
mind. All those gifts are not only designed with intelligence and ingenuity but come from vital and often profound feelings people have for one another.

The more the merrier—and let’s also celebrate the commercial element that
makes it all possible.

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