Marolt: Spend the holidays spending
You know the old saw — if you give a man a fish, you feed him for the day. But if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.
It’s enough to get you thinking generously for the holidays. You write a few checks, put a few extra bucks in the collection plate and maybe even put in some volunteer time with your favorite charitable organizations while drinking hot cocoa and being festive for the cause. Nice!
Then, just about the time the good feelings start kicking in, all those nagging, commercialized thoughts about decorating and catered merry-making and gift-giving start eroding the holiday spirit. Who hasn’t thought that the whole holiday season wouldn’t be better if we did away with all the ribbons, did away with the tags, did away with the packages, boxes and bags? The Grinch was onto something!
I love the Grinch. Don’t we all rejoice in the point that even after Mr. Grinch stole all the Christmas junk and was ready to dump it into the gorge from the top of Mount Crumpit, Christmas came anyway? And it is really, really nice with all the Whos holding hands around the Christmas tree singing their own rousing rendition of “Welcome Christmas” as the sun rises on the magical day! The joyful message of Christmas is immutable! It is the takeaway from the classic story.
But I think there is another point that is often lost in the feel-good moment that steals our hearts like a warm carving of roast beast. If we really pay attention to the story, Christmas got better when the Grinch came to his senses, garnered the strength to rescue his load of crap from crashing into the abyss and brought all the material trappings of Christmas back to Whoville. Nobody complained! The Whos were given the gift of seeing Christmas both ways. They experienced it with nothing, and they experienced it with everything. In the end, they chose the way with batteries included!
Who — excuse me — how could this be? It goes against everything we have been taught to hope for during the holidays — peace, quiet, love and maybe a glass of low-fat eggnog.
Ironically, the answer may be found in the parable about fishing. Yes, it’s true that to give a hungry man a fish to eat is a wonderful thing. It is even better if you take your own time to teach him how to tie flies and cast a line. But what if you went one step further? What if you gave the hungry man a fish to eat, taught him how to fish and then bought a bunch of fish from him and gave them to your friends as gifts? It’s a win-win-win situation!
The poor man ends up with food for life, and from the fish sales he might even be able to buy a car and house. With a little luck and a few gray hairs, he might even be able to afford health insurance and a college education for his kids.
Christmas is a good thing with all the hoopla. All the spending on rich foods that make us fat and gifts that nobody needs can even be considered charitable. It makes the giver feel good. It makes the receiver feel good and usually gives them something to wonder about — namely, what was the giver thinking? And it provides lots of fishermen and ugly-sweater knitters with the means to make a living, too!
I think we should try to make the holidays a little greener, but even then, cutting out the wrapping paper and tinsel-makers leaves more people with less turkey and fixings on their tables, and then the turkey farmers and fixing producers suffer. They don’t take vacations, and that affects the ski instructors. It’s complicated.
As weird as it may sound, it looks to me like the world is a better place when people spend their money rather than keeping it locked up in a bank CD or stuffed into their mattresses (which, incidentally, offer about the same rates of interest these days). Spenders help more people than misers; can we all agree on that?
Going consumer-crazy isn’t the perfect way to celebrate the holidays, but it is better than the alternative. It helps others rather than only providing selfish peace and quiet. I’m sure the real answer lies in teaching the fisherman how to catch, process, ship and market his catch in ways that ensure he and his children can keep doing it well into the future and so none of his customers gets mercury poisoning. Who knows? Or should I say, “Whos know”?
Roger Marolt likes it when the Grinch and his dog Max straightline their sled down the face of Mount Crumpit. Email email@example.com.