A humble little blog about books, information, and other things that are good to know.

Posts tagged ‘consumerism’

The Practical Charity Santa

Santa Claus

Image via Turn Back To God.

There’s a holiday tradition in my family. Ever since my husband and I met, we’ve made children’s charities a part of our Christmas celebration by purchasing and donating brand-new toys to children living in poverty. In fact, the tradition has been going on since before I met him: I started to secretly donate toys around the holidays as a teen with the proceeds from my part-time job. So I have a decade-long history with charity-giving for children.

And yet I’ve never had a year when the gift-giving process has been as difficult (or as satisfying) as this Christmas.

The reason seems simple to me. I’ve spent the last couple of years learning a lot about the needs of children – physical, social, intellectual, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and developmental – and I wanted to take those things into account as I picked gifts for my Christmas Children. I’ve learned a lot about what shapes the way we each think and feel about ourselves. Some of it has been intellectual “book-learning”, but a lot of it has been experiential. I’ve watched children grow. I’ve looked at myself more deeply. I’ve considered what trends in my past have shaped me into the person I became.

Even more so, though – most likely because of the recession looming over us – I’ve also spent a lot more time thinking practically about the conditions of real life for those who have substantially fewer financial resources to fall back on. That left me second-guessing a lot of the gift-giving possibilities at my disposal. Gift-giving with the poor child in mind is not the same as shopping for well-to-do kids. There’s a lot to think about.

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No Assholes!

Okay, I get that we live in a society that tends to encourage self-centered behaviour. It’s definitely a “me-first” culture. But I still find it pretty incredible that somebody had to write this book.

 

The No Asshole Rule

Image via Mindfulness Matters.

 

Shouldn’t it be something close to second nature to not be an asshole? I mean, isn’t that a main tenet of most  major religions – treat others as you would have them treat you? Granted, lots of people have moved away from organized religion in our society, but even the most hardcore atheist would concede that treating others how you would want to be treated is a pretty reasonable rule of thumb.

This isn’t a spiritual deficit. This is just plain lack of consideration. People aren’t taking the time or the thought-effort to be considerate of others. Emphasis on freedom, living for now, and the pursuit of happiness has led to a mentality that it’s just plain okay not to consider the impact of your choices on somebody else.

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Enlightenment For Spoiled Rich Ladies

Theatrical poster for "Eat, Pray, Love" featuring Julia Roberts.

Image courtesy of Empire Movies.

Full disclosure: I haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love, and I haven’t seen the movie either. I was becoming vaguely interested in it because of the religious angle, and I thought I might check out the book (no pun intended . . . well, maybe just a little) for that reason. I like yoga and meditation and honest spiritual reflection, all of which seem like key ingredients in Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir. It seems like this would be a bandwagon I’d just be dying to hop on.

But I’m not exactly jumping.

And when you think about it, it’s not too hard to understand why I can’t get myself too worked up about Liz Gilbert’s spiritual struggles as depicted in the movie. In a time of recession, when money is a nightmare-inducing stressor for far too many families, it’s hard to feel much more than resentment for somebody who goes into her travel agent’s office and plans a year’s vacation just because she wants to marvel at something.

Hey, lady, I’d marvel at finding a job somewhere other than Burger King. Don’t you realize how good you’ve got it? (Hint: If you can afford to plan a year-long vacation in exotic locales, you’ve got it pretty good. There must be more than a little cash coming in to bankroll that kind of self-exploration.)

Julia Roberts in "Eat, Pray, Love"

If you can't afford your own private Indian swami, then spiritual enlightenment is not for you. Image courtesy of The Moxie Bee.

Caitlin Kelly, a fellow WordPress blogger, complains of the sexism lurking behind bad reviews in a post called “‘Eat, Pray, Love’: Why A Woman Seeking Solo Joy Pisses Everyone Off”. According to her analysis, the sour grapes are all about society’s reaction to a free-spirited woman who decides she doesn’t need a man or a baby to be happy. If men have the freedom to explore the world, she argues, then so should women. And she’s right. If that’s our Lizzie’s path, more power to her.

But, speaking for myself, I’m not pissed off about “a woman seeking solo joy”, as Kelly insists. I’m pissed off because if I want to seek joy, solo or otherwise, I’m limited by my (dwindling, anemic) bank account. If joy isn’t within short driving distance of where I live, I’m not going to find it. Not everyone can jet to Italy, India, and Indonesia for a year-long voyage of self-discovery. And maybe something’s been lost in translation from book to movie, but based on the reviews I’ve read, it seems like the movie doesn’t have much to say about self-discovery for women who can’t afford the kind of big-scale travel Liz Gilbert takes on in Eat, Pray, Love.

Lee Ferguson of CBC.ca diagnoses the movie’s main money-making strategy: “It pays lip service to female empowerment, while using more calculated means — James Franco! Food porn! Exotic locales! — to lure hungry women viewers into multiplex seats.” Andrea Gronvall of the Chicago Reader goes one step further: “only hard-core fans of Oprah’s BFF will be able to stomach this navel-gazing tripe, which posits ‘me-first’ consumerism as the road to happiness.” In other words, what started off looking like an encouraging movie about finding empowerment and knowing thyself rapidly becomes a pie-in-the-sky fantasy.

No wonder it’s not finding the warm reception it undoubtedly expected. Seeing Julia Roberts’ character fly to Italy to have a relationship with her pizza just reminds me that I can’t even responsibly order in Little Caesar’s. And in fact, I should probably be feeling guilty that I bought this movie ticket in the first place, and God help me if I splurged on a Coke and popcorn.

There are those who will argue that it’s not fair for me to comment if I haven’t seen the movie. They’re probably right. I’m relying primarily on the opinions of others, but also on the way I feel when that trailer comes on TV. I see that “go for it!” attitude splashed all over the screen and wonder, would I be enlightened if I had no commitments and no obligations and the financial wherewithal to catch the next plane to Dharamsala? Somehow bailing out on everybody who might possibly rely on your presence doesn’t seem like a reliable path to self-discovery.

But more than that, I resent the implication that finding myself could be just one credit card swipe away . . . and that it doesn’t belong to the people who can’t afford to pay for it.

Enlightenment should be for everybody.

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