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Thanks and solidarity are holiday season's true gifts

Publication Date : 02-12-2013


With the American holiday of Thanksgiving past us, we are heading rapidly into the more global celebration of Christmas. Even our subtropical island has been enveloped by a cold front that sends us to the warmth of our fleece jackets, scarves and overcoats as we beseech our loved ones for their presence.

This season, when those of us blessed with health and a life generous with material and immaterial endowments are looking forward to having a good time, is an opportune time to heed a collective call to assess our daily priorities and lift ourselves up from the constricted plane of daily life, and devote a bit more of our concerns to the plight of many who, in this holiday season, have to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year while struggling with the cruelty of life.

The plight of the poor and the oppressed, the sick and the needy, those desperate for help in war zones and those stricken by natural disasters should be our concern. At the very moment, as we are huddled in the warmth and comforts of our glowing hearths, or at least wrapped in a futon capable of warding off the cold, we should at least reserve some of our kindness for those we don't know, millions upon millions of whom are in circumstances less fortunate than our own.

Remembering others and caring for them helps boost our happiness. Seeing a close-up of a young Syrian boy sweating to clean fish for US$60 a month, reminds Taiwanese of our comparative wealth. Seeing scenes from the wreck of a collapsed roof in Latvia to massive carnage at the site of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh reminds us how fragile our lives are. And looking at the millions destitute in our neighbour the Philippines as they begin an arduous reconstruction after Typhoon Haiyan is helpful for reminding us how many people must suffer to survive against cold, deprivation and hunger in the most difficult of circumstances.

Of course, we should also share a little of what we have, instead of just looking. We should reorient our ordinary lives to give, to match a degree of empathy shown by those at the very bottom rung of society toward the needy. According to research cited by The Atlantic magazine, in 2011 the 20 per cent of Americans with the lowest earnings contributed 3.2 per cent of their wealth to charity, versus 1.3 per cent for those in the top 20 per cent.

Shopping for things we don't need amid the dizzying rollouts of product chains in a hyper-commercialised population nexus means expecting to find happiness in an environment designed to foster cravings for new products. At some point, good taste and comfortable living will give way to jealousy and a nagging sense of inferiority, both stemming from dissatisfaction at being unable to fill the endless pit of desire.

In an article titled “If You Shop on Thanksgiving, You Are Part of the Problem” published this month in the Huffington Post, Matt Walsh rousingly lambasts the obligatory mindset of consumerism that waxes during a shopping season warped by over-consumption:

“Don't create, or produce, or discover — just buy. Never save, never invest, never cut back — just buy. Buy what you don't need with money you don't have. Buy when you're happy. Buy when you're sad. Buy when you're hungry. Buy when you want to lose weight. Buy an iPhone. Six months have passed, here, buy another iPhone.”

The shopping frenzy brought on by Thanksgiving in the US has already caused violence in clashes throughout the country on Friday. The virtues that Walsh talks about, namely serenity, self-control and engaging in enterprise or savings, are overshadowed.

In an article published on November 29, Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post quotes Pope Francis as expounding a principle in his Apostolic Exhortation that calls on us to seize proper control of material goods, instead of being brainwashed by them: “The private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good; for this reason, solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them.”

So, during this holiday season, our better options are working out at the gym, relaxing, and having a fun time with friends, but not wallowing in expensive and unneeded consumerist trappings. Save money for your future, or care for the needy by sharing a little bit of your wealth with them. And let us seek our joy in the priceless gathering of family.


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