Consumed by Consumerism

We really can’t miss it; as soon as Halloween is over, stores tear all their decorations down and get prepared for one of the most profitable seasons of the year. Lights, decorations and sometimes even Christmas music invade streets, stores and homes alike, as early as November 1st! The message is clear: Christmas is here! It’s time to buy, buy, buy!

Granted, the Christmas season certainly brings about all kinds of positivity. People suddenly become a little more jolly, they tend to desire companionship and time spent with their loved ones, they may adopt a more “giving” mood and maybe even a little bit of seasonal altruism. I can’t complain about the positive things that bring humanity together, though, even if they are “seasonal”. Everyone needs a sense of community, and if we only get it once a year, then that’s better than nothing, right?

The things with which I take issue have nothing to do with the positive aspects of the Christmas season; I’m more concerned about the fact that we’ve become so consumed by consumerism that we have forgotten what the Christmas spirit is really about. I know this almost sounds like a typical Christmas movie… “Family and the ones you love are the only things that matter in life”. In fact, what’s kind of funny about those Christmas movies is that the characters buy all kinds of stuff for each other and they display all of this cleaver advertising and sell certain ideals, values and beliefs while trying to send “a message”. I digress…

When people ask me what I want for Christmas and I tell them I want nothing, they look at me as though I’ve clearly fallen and hit my head hard enough to knock sanity right out of me. “*insert nervous laugh* No! But really… what do you want?When I say that what I desire most is to serve others, people think I’m lying. Those who truly know me understand that I’m telling the truth, though.

It really is as though I’m supposed to want stuff… more stuff… and to buy all kinds of stuff for every single person in my life. Does this – not wanting a single gift – sound a little radical? Perhaps. There’s a fair amount of reasoning behind it, though.

While growing up, I never got Christmas gifts like everyone else did. I admit that it tore my little heart when I got socks and a doornob one year (Yeah… that’s another bag of chips!) because I knew that all the other kids in my class competed every year for who got the best gifts. Who got the most? Who got the most expensive? Who got everything they wanted? Was I really going to tell them I got a doornob that year? NO! That would have triggered immediate torment and ultimately, death. So, I lied. Every year.

I didn’t understand it at the time, but it was (and still is) just part of “life”. You grow up, write a Christmas list to Santa, and you get what you ask for. When you don’t believe in Santa anymore, you give your list directly to your parents and expect them to get everything. If they don’t, then they surely must not love you enough.

Even parents compete with each other! “Well, I got my kid a brand new pickup truck this year… it’s nothing, but we do what we can…” *insert thought: BEAT THAT!*

OK… maybe this is a little exaggerated, but I’m sure you get the point. Sadly, it’s not far from the truth.

Fortunately for us, we’re not completely to blame for this. Advertising companies make sure to create a longing in kids, teens and adults alike for whatever they’re selling, and then work their behinds off to sell the idea that if you don’t buy your kids everything they want, if you don’t buy your spouse “bigger” (or more expensive) and better gifts, if you don’t buy their love and appreciation, then you must not be a great parent, husband, wife, sibling, grandparent, uncle, aunt, friend, etc. (This entire issue extends farther than just Christmas time, and we buy into it… all the time.)

What do these major companies care if we drown ourselves in debt and we end up getting depressed by January 2nd when we wake up and realize that we spent “so much more than we intended to spend” and that we, yet again, spent more than we did the previous year? Of course they don’t care; your money goes into their pockets. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?

I know, I know. Some of you who are reading this might be thinking: “Yeah, maybe this is true, but I know many families who don’t drown themselves in debt for Christmas and just genuinely enjoy buying gifts for each other.” This much, I can attest, is true. First, though, I can’t help but ask: “Where does the source of this feeling of enjoyment come from, really…”, but I also know some families who go about Christmas in a milder gift-giving manner. Some will have gift exchanges, others will limit gift numbers to one or two gifts per child/person, and others might have price cut-offs. (Even with a spending or gift-number maximum, gift-giving can get pretty expensive!). Isn’t this whole issue about the fact that we’re sold the notion that Christmas is more or less about gift-giving?

I don’t want to use blanket statements, but if we really stop to think about it, what do we worry about come Christmas time? We don’t worry about how many kids will go to sleep hungry, or how many people will die outside in atrocious weather conditions; we worry about what we’re going to get mom, dad, the kids, our spouse, uncle bob, aunt Martha, cousin Eddie, and the list goes on…

Consumerism affects us in numerous ways (and in ways we cannot even fathom or truly be able to understand), but what irks me is the fact that this way of being – this culture of ours – has created children who have become ungrateful, selfish little brats. Does that sound harsh? I don’t think it is entirely. Most of the kids I’ve come to know through my many experiences (as a teacher, parent and regular adult), as well as most of my generation, are this way. I’m just stating an observation. Today, kids, like many adults, see christmas as a big gift-giving fest (and if we expand the idea, they want everything – in general – now, now, NOW!).

Think about it. How many people, out of everyone you know or are acquainted with, are wholeheartedly invested in service to others and in being selfless? How many kids do you know, however, who look forward to getting a long list of gifts, only to tear each one up in 5 seconds while sitting eagerly next to the Christmas tree, and throw it aside the instant it’s unwrapped to grab the next gift; what’s worse is that many even get bored with some of their gifts within 20minutes on Christmas morning!

What does “Christmas” – the real definition of the celebration – mean anymore? Our celebration as we know it in our current context is a time where cultural Christians may (or may not) go to midnight mass because Grandma May forced them to go for the sake of maintaining tradition. During that whole mass (if they go), the one thing on their mind is likely: “Man, only 45 more minutes of this. When we get home we’re going to have a feast and I’m going to get to open all my gifts in X amount of hours!“. I’m guilty of this; I did this for years!

Some don’t go to church at all; less and less people go to church to celebrate the most important moment in time for Christians. Doesn’t this just scream the fact that we’ve become entirely disconnected with the true meaning of Christmas?!

Christmas is about celebrating the life of a man who gave everything, all of himself, to mankind. At the very least, even if we don’t go to church or aren’t too sure if we even believe in God, if we’re going to be celebrating Christmas, shouldn’t we be celebrating these values?

In many ways, although I “suffered” tremendously during my childhood, I now appreciate growing up in a home that did not shower me with gifts or useless junk for Christmas.

If I can transmit anything to my own son during this season, it will be that the celebration is about being selfless, giving himself up to help others in every way he can, demonstrating genuine compassion and appreciation for humankind, and investing himself in making others happy. If he needs a new laptop, why would I buy it for him for Christmas when he really needs it in September? To add a little thought, if we give gifts as a demonstration of love, kindness and/or appreciation (as this is often culturally relevant), why must we reserve those acts of kindness for a specific season or commercial holiday? (e.g.: Valentine’s Day)

I don’t mean to sound righteous or overbearing with my personal opinions about consumerism and Christmas; I do, however, appreciate this forum for expression and wish to share my opinion with others with hopes of triggering a certain level of reflection about this issue of consumerism and about what Christmas and the Christmas spirit really is.

Of course, I’m also a product of my general environment and I, too, am affected in many ways by consumerism. I enjoy receiving gifts once in a while… Who doesn’t? I just don’t want them at Christmas time.

I personally don’t always go to church, either. Sometimes I do, but other times I don’t for a number of reasons. I understand that we all have personal preferences and opinions about the religious aspect of Christmas and I can respect others’ choice not to attend church. What I do think, however, is that Christmas is about celebrating the values and beliefs that we’ve been taught through Jesus and everything he aspired to teach us. Most, if not all, of these values and beliefs are pretty universal: be selfless, be of service to others, demonstrate your appreciation for those you love, lead a life that would make the big man upstairs proud, etc.

I write this whole piece with a touch of sarcasm, humour and some exaggerations to simply make a point: we’ve become so wrapped up with consumerism (especially during the Christmas season), that we seem to have forgotten what the Christmas celebration (and ultimately life) is really about. I don’t expect everyone to stop buying gifts altogether or to make all kinds of radical changes to the traditions they’ve developed over the years; I would like to see, however, a population that is aware of this culture of buying and perhaps one that places much more emphasis on the positive aspects, values and beliefs that bring humanity together during Christmas time.

Altruism and philanthropy never hurt anyone, and it is often in selflessness and service to others that we feel the most genuinely happy. We should definitely take more of this on, as well as inspire and motivate others to follow suit.

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“The Pathology of Privilege” (Tim Wise)

Since this is a highly important discussion to have in our current context, I thought I would share this with as many people as possible.

The video I will post is accessible on Youtube (all 6 parts). I will also post two links to Tim Wise on Obama and race.

Essentially, this is a talk about racism, white privilege and social inequalities. If it doesn’t change your perspective, it will certainly teach you something! Tim Wise is awesome.

Enjoy!

 

“Between Barack and a Hard Place”

 

A discussion about Obama and race…

“It Gets Better Canada”: Stop the Bullying

A friend of mine shared this with me, and I thought I would share it with whomever might find a moment to read my blog. It’s really  important to me to spread love, awareness and compassion.

As much as we have made great strides in accepting the LGBT community and the wonderful human beings within it, we still have SO much work to do. It isn’t because someone might decide to “come out” that they are completely liberated. As we know from the series of suicides in recent months, life can sometimes become unbearable for someone who is perceived to deviate from the norm. Kids, teens and even adults continue to suffer at the hands of some painfuly hurtful people, groups and communities.

We must speak out against the bullying and the hateful acts committed against LGBT youth and adults. We must get together and fight for their fundamental human rights, as well as support and encourage them through their own processes and road to self-acceptance.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/yahoocanada/101104/canada/canadian_video_helps_gay_teens_deal_with_homophobia

Outrageously Disturbing!

Oh, the GALL!!!

I didn’t have the time to write about this outrageous and appalling story when it first came out, but here it is…

Apparently, two people – who are clearly missing a history lesson, cultural sensitivity, half a brain and some overall humanity- thought it would be a great idea to dress up in the most offensive costume EVER for Halloween. Two men went to a Royal Canadian Legion Halloween party in Eastern Ontario dressed as a KKK member (in full-out KKK attire and with a confederate flag tied around his neck) holding a black man (a white man in black face paint) by a noose!

WHAT?!!!!!

Wait! It gets worse!

They won first place in the Legion’s costume contest! People actually condoned this!!!!

According to some guests at the Legion, few walked out and no one spoke out against this obscenity of monstrous proportions.

What’s even more alarming is that the KKK guy’s son was ranting about how it’s Halloween and about the idea that people should be free to dress how they please. He added that he didn’t understand why his father was under so much fire, how he really didn’t see the big deal in dressing up like this and that it was “just a costume”.

Really?!

How sad is this? This is so appalling and disturbing that it should be considered a hate crime!

The president of the Legion issued an apology, the day after the event, stating that this behaviour was not promoted or condoned by the members of the Legion and that it does not reflect the overall values and beliefs of the Legion itself. Well, in my humble opinion, there’s a load of B/S if you ever had one! If it really didn’t reflect some underlying beliefs (including those of the Legion’s members – who were silent and willing bystanders), those held responsible for the party would have never allowed this pair through the doors, much less awarded them the FIRST PRIZE in the costume contest!

Granted, many individuals in the community in question are as outraged as I am; the fact remains, however, that no one had the cojones (or worse, the desire) to speak out against this disturbing and hateful act.

This is simply atrocious and abominable.

Alas, as sad as this situation may be, let us use it as a lesson.

We need to invest more time, energy and money into educating the general public and creating more awareness of cultural issues. It is imperative for us to promote more cultural sensitivity and to instill a climate of peace, kindness and compassion in ourselves, our homes, our communities and our nations in order for any harmony amongst our global population to be possible.

It all begins with each and every one of us.

Links to the story:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/ontario/kkk-costume-at-legion-halloween-party-disgusts-many-in-ontario-town/article1783090/

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/life/costume+causes+outrage+during+Ontario+Legion+contest/3767227/story.html

“Tough Guise: Crisis in Masculinity”

OK, since I posted a video on how advertising affects women, I’d like to do the same for men. I watched this particular video in one of my Sociology classes, and I have never forgotten it; it really speaks volumes.

This one is a little longer, but it is definitely worth the time. (Approx. 50 minutes of education)

This video addresses violence, media, and the definition of “masculinity”. Again, I have posted all the related links, so you can watch this video in full without having to search for each part.

Enjoy!

“Killing Us Softly” (Jean Kilbourne)

We all know that media affects us to some degree. Here is a video about girls and women, and the effect of media and advertising on their self-esteem, self-perceptions and lives. The delivery of this message is brilliant! It’s truly an interesting piece.

I hope that you will enjoy it as much as I have. I invite everyone -including men- to take a few minutes for this. 🙂

All four parts of the video are posted below. (Approx. 30-35 minutes)

Take It Seriously

I know that this is coming a little late in the day, but here it is anyway; it’s worth it.

Today is Mental Health Day.

Mental illness affects millions, both directly and indirectly, and it is definitely an issue that we must take seriously. I personally struggle with bouts of depression from time to time, and many people in my family, and amongst my friends and acquaintances are touched by this issue in one way or another. Severity varies from individual to individual, but what remains constant the fact that people are struggling and often feel misunderstood, alone or are isolated; a dialogue must be had. Far too many are misunderstood, isolated, harassed, ostracized, criticized, judged, or worse, rejected or victims of violence.

We must work – as a community – to support and encourage those who live with this reality. We must educate the public and improve services and resources for this fragile population. Most importantly, however, we must strive to promote a climate of acceptance and understanding in the global community.

I dedicate my post to anyone who is affected, in any way, shape or form, by mental illness. ❤

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