Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Holiday/Commercial Extravaganza

Around the holidays, a favorite moralism is that "it's not about the getting, it's about the giving." However, there is an insidious lie hidden even in this statement—not to sound paranoid. It is true to say that a focus on getting is a focus on self, and is therefore selfish or at least self-centered. The idea that giving is more in keeping with the spirit of the season is also accurate, though it is only half-true.
The giving of material things is an important link in the Holiday/Commercial Extravaganza. The "need" to give material things compels the purchase of material things. Unfortunately, this both requires and perpetuates the desire to get material things. Regardless of what media might try to tell us in the above mentioned adage, the reality of the situation is that if no one wanted to "get" there would be no reason to buy in order to "give."

The mass media/marketing continuum—as always—would have you believe that the simple movement of material goods not only constitutes genuine giving in-and-of itself but also strengthens the economy. Again, this is accurate, but only half-true. The spread of empty products neither constitutes genuine giving nor strengthens the economy. The majority of gift purchases are of consumer goods—especially consumer electronics, which have no lasting value.

To buy something that rapidly decreases in value and use it merely for recreational purposes is to purchase a hole in your wallet. To give the same thing to another person for the same reason is to give a hole in the wallet. Once you have something that breaks or becomes obsolete, you are compelled to replace it. It's funny what we can live without until someone gives it to us. Marketers know this, and most people know this. For that reason media has the job of making us feel alright about it. "Are you a Scrooge?"

With the difficult economic conditions we face today, preserving this bubble is becoming a more and more delicate task. On one end of the spectrum, they prop up your belief by selling you on the idea that giving stuff is a great reason to buy stuff. On the other end, they continuously decrease the lasting value of the stuff, so as to create the desire to buy more stuff. "No I'm not a Scrooge, because I have a heart."

The real secret of the Holidays is that its not about getting or giving. It's about loving! Give a person all the diamonds in the world, it doesn't guarantee you love her. Give her your presence, your kindness, your best smile... That's magic! And the same is true in all relationships—from employee/employer to family to lovers.

So the real gift is love. It can be demonstrated by the giving of material goods. It can be shown in a mere handmade card. It can be seen in your eyes, or it can be viewed when you uncover someone's eyes. Just remember this season to really think about the person you're giving to. If they know you love them, that might be only gift they need.

1 comment:

  1. One Reader Writes:

    So, a couple weeks ago I found a ring at work -- one of those gaudy metal-and-fake-diamond rings you can get for $6.50. I wore it all day, but, because I have a heart ;), I left it in the lost-and-found. I suddenly felt a burning desire to own such a ring. "It's funny what we can live without until someone gives it to us." Or, until we see other people with someone pretty that we don't have. Shoot, I even find myself still shopping for something I've just bought because the buzz wears off so quickly.

    It's frustrating to never be satisfied. The older we get, the less we get for Christmas, and I don't think I really care because I don't need anything. But there's something about not getting that makes one feel unimportant. Like, 'this person didn't think I was worth a pair of socks.' You don't need more socks. Where does this desire come from and how do we stop it?

    I'm never exactly sure if my thoughts are coming through clearly. Giving and getting are fine, my point is that they don't replace the emotional connections between people. In the absence of love (in the broad sense), the exchange of material goods is a meaningless waste. A lot of people feel obligated to spend money they can't afford to spend.

    It has been ingrained in us since childhood that stuff = happiness. The only cure is honest reflection and perspective. Gifts don't always have to be purchased. Some of the most heart-felt are handmade. Giving satisfies more than getting, but only genuine giving from the heart—which demonstrates an understanding of the other person, and tightens the bonds of the relationship.