06 November 2010

Tis the Season for Selfishness and Judgment

While browsing Amazon the other night, I happened to glance at the Customer Discussions: Gold Box Forum and I saw a topic titled, "What's a good Christmas gift idea for an 11 year old who has everything?"  I don't know why I felt the need to see what some of the ideas were, since there are no 11 year old boys who have everything on my shopping list.  I confess part of me just wanted to know what, in her world, constituted "[having]" everything."  Here's what the original poster ("OP" for those in the know about forum slang) had to say:
My son has everything. He has an iPod, a DS, Xbox 360, Wii, and we even fixed up one of our old PC's so he has his own computer. 
I am at a loss for what to get him this year. His birthday was in August and he got all of the video games that he wanted. He's got a new bike and he's not really athletic so any other sporting goods aren't an option. I just don't know what to get him. Any ideas? I'm willing to spend up to around $200 for his gift.
WWUJD? (What Would
Uncle Jesse Do?)
I don't even care to guess how many posters have replied by saying she should take her son to volunteer at a soup kitchen (apparently, they saw that episode of Full House and it stuck with them).  Just as many have slammed the mother for lavishing her kid with so many high priced electronics.  Some are appalled by what they perceive to be a lack of humility; others, by a materialistic obsession.  A minority have suggested things like a handheld GPS device so that mom and son can take up geocaching (whatever the hell that is).  I personally suggested taking the kid to a Christmas-themed play or ballet, like "A Christmas Carol."  She can even include a new suit and make dressing up for the occasion part of the gift.  Experiences are more important than things, but that's just my philosophy.

This, of course, got me to wondering about the implications of that family.  $200.00 for the "big gift" may well be more than a lot of families can afford for all their kids this year.  I personally know a guy who drops $500 apiece on his two kids every Christmas, and he's firmly lower-middle class.  Everyone's budget and priorities are different.  Knowing the retail prices of the devices the OP mentioned adds up to a hefty sum, but we don't know which models he has (an iPod Shuffle is $49; an iPod Touch is $249), or when he received them, or that they all came from mom.  Conceivably, a grandparent gave the X-Box for his last birthday, an aunt, the Wii in 2008 and so on.

You could give 249 McDoubles to the
hungry instead of buying this.
More importantly, we don't know anything about the kid himself.  The temptation is to say, "No 11 year old needs all that," and that it can only lead to him appreciating nothing in life and becoming a narcissistic monster one cold pizza away from becoming a serial killing sociopath.  Maybe.  But I've been a kid once, and I know several.  There's simply no causal relationship between how many things a kid owns and whether or not he appreciates them.  I've known kids who had everything under the sun that were clearly headed for that life of egocentricity, but I've also known many who genuinely understood how fortunate they were and fostered a sincere respect for it.  Conversely, I've known kids who treasured their few belongings and others who took such poor care of the few things they owned that I had a moral problem wasting the money on things for them to trash within a week.

What is it about us, then, as a society that we feel entitled to pass such judgments based on so little information about someone we don't know?  One poster in the thread attributed it to mere jealousy, and I think that's partly it.  Surely, it's got to rub a lot of people the wrong way to read something that smacks of frivolity during a time of such economic hardship.  There are millions of people anxious about whether they'll even still have a home for Christmas, much less a tree in the living room with gifts under it.  To know some 11 year old kid will be adding yet another $200 video game console to his massive collection of them just feels insensitive.

On the other hand, I'm of the mind that I do not begrudge anyone their good fortune (unless they mistake their being lucky along the way for evidence that they're a better person than those less fortunate, in which case I despise them and wish I could be there when the truth is revealed to them).  For all I know, this woman singlehandedly has kept a business afloat that employs a hundred people who, thanks to her efforts, are not among those who will go to bed tonight afraid this will be their last month as a homeowner. Maybe she's a researcher trying to cure Crohn's disease.  Then again, maybe she's nothing more than a trophy wife and her husband is one of the villains of the economic collapse who managed to get away with murder.  Since I don't know any of this to be true, I don't feel entitled to pass judgment on her.  To be honest, even if I did know any of that to be true, I still wouldn't feel qualified to pass judgment.

Actually, it's been my experience with Crohn's that has sharpened that philosophy.  There are quite a lot of foods I've had to give up, including salads (leafy greens are a recipe for a complete blockage) and chili (hurts way too much).  My wife has shied away from eating those things around me, trying to be sensitive.  It's sweet of her, but misguided.  The bottom line is, I can either eat or not eat a given food whether the entire world eats it or not.  What good does it do me for her to not eat a salad in front of me?  How would a less fortunate family benefit from that 11 year old boy not getting a $200 video game console for Christmas?

Several people have insisted she should donate the $200 to a charity, or have the son spend the money on things for Toys for Tots, etc.  We don't know anything about the family's charitable giving from her original post (though it is later stated that they do, in fact, make a point of charitable donations).  I would posit that we are not entitled to demand she, or anyone, make such a contribution.  I personally am reluctant to donate more than a dollar or so at a time to any given charity because I frankly am too suspicious that it will ever actually manifest itself in a meaningful way.  I've done the odd good deed here or there, but I consider it vulgar to cite any examples here and anyway, I resent being made to feel that I should prove my generosity to anyone.  I suspect most of us feel the same way, and yet there's clearly a sense that if you're going to tell us how many expensive things your son already owns, you owe us a donation slip to offset your selfishness.

Thoughts?

4 comments:

  1. Everything in moderation, right? We are Americans and where we can over-indulge, we will. However, just because we have the means to do so doesn't make it right. I am a minimalist so it is hard for me to believe that any parent would want to fill their childrens rooms with things they will eventually grow bored with.

    Essentially, the more we have, the more we want and showering Jr. with everything now is setting him up for failure as an adult. I mean to say that he will never learn to be satisfied with what he has and always be searching for satisfaction in material possessions.

    I know that the OP thinks this is an actual dilemma for her but something tells me that despite the fact Jr. has everything, she will find more to give. I bet this is her way of showing love and I agree with you, time spent is worth more than money spent. I would never chastise her or leave a rude comment ( let's face it, she is not going to take her over-ingulged child to a soup kitchen for his Christmas present) let's just tell her what she wants to hear - give him an iPad.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Part two-
    I have friends who have lavish parties for their kids, complete with hand calligraphed invitations and elaborate themes. They invite the entire neighborhood, the entire class and the entire family. I find myself thinking "Do you know what I could DO with the X dollars you are spending on this party?!?!" I feel the same way about most weddings. That is just my fuddy-duddy age showing through. Or the wisdom of my years! Yeah, that sound better! I find it all pretentious and ridiculous.

    But does that mean I would not do the same if I could? I imagine I wouldn't, but I don't really know. As much as some people can't seem to relate to how I agonize over buying milk some days, I can't truly relate to being able to buy better, organic, non-hormone treated milk without batting an eyelash. Would I if I could? Maybe. Definitely maybe. Do I think the way I do because of the situation I am in? Am I just being pragmatic, or do I really have these set in stone values that "less is more", or "regular is good enough"?
    What mother doesn't want to make her kid happy? Who would begrudge anyone the thrill of seeing their kid's face light up at the sight of a coveted toy or hear the screams of delight when told they are spending Christmas at Disneyworld? These are happy times! They say money doesn't make you happy, but money that buys things that result in those smiles and screams of delight is, let's be honest, usually worth it. But I also know my daughter once cried tears of joy when she realized she had received a $15 cell phone for Christmas.
    I would say, not having read the comments you read, that it comes down to a good mix of envy and common sense, though the common sense may not have been shared with common courtesy. And I also have to chuckle at the naivety of any mother putting herself out there in that way in such a public place, when she must have known what would happen. Maybe I have been on a few too many "mommy boards", but that is just social media suicide! The bottom line for me is that you have given me a reminder to never assume or judge what I do not actually know. Even glass houses fail to tell the entire story. Thank you.
    ps Let's not forget-GRANDPARENTS! They throw everything off in the ratio of adequate to OVER THE TOP! ;)

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  3. Part 0ne-
    Reason one I liked your post, Travis, was the fact that you do not have kids. I see it as an objective opinion,, rather than as something defensive a parent likely would have written.
    You know, probably better than many of my friends, we are not in a giving way these days. Each day is a struggle, both personally and financially. To the outsider, it is not obvious that we don't have heat, our mortgage company is angry with us and our phone rings off the hook with people who want, need, demand money from us. We have a rather large HDTV that we got with our rather large tax return one year (which is another interesting subject!) and you can see it very clearly as you drive up the hill in our middle to upper middle class neighborhood past our fairly modest home. You can make all sorts of assumptions seeing that, along with my fairly nice car sitting in the driveway, scratches and dents from the children we safely carry in it notwithstanding. But the outsider would not know that we inherited this house, and if we hadn't we could not afford it, even in its state of disrepair. Probably not afford this county at all! They would not know that along with this safe home we inherited all of the debt its previous owner had through equity in the home. Even those closest to us don't realize that fact.
    We got our son a PS3 for his birthday this year. Pretty nice gift for a kid with broke parents, huh? A couple of years ago, we saw our older children were not as thrilled with balloons and ice cream for their birthdays so we averaged what we usually spent for a party- food, decorations, gifts, (stupid) gift bags- and offered that amount as a gift option. They get a better gift, they get to skip the "silliness" of a party, and I don't have to clean up. Win-win. Yes, he already has a Wii. That was a group gift a couple of Christmases ago. Christmas is usually low key here. It is, after all, not about the goodies. We stick with the three gift rule, and it has to be "something you want, something you need and something to read". Naturally, "something you want" leads to major negotiation! We have no set amount we spend each year, it usually reverts to what CAN we spend. So we combined the "I wants" and got the Wii for the entire family. But the outsider would just see the Wii and assume we are "doing well". Of course there are those who wouldn't bat an eyelash. They are probably the ones I tend to judge.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Everything in moderation, right? We are Americans and where we can over-indulge, we will. However, just because we have the means to do so doesn't make it right. I am a minimalist so it is hard for me to believe that any parent would want to fill their childrens rooms with things they will eventually grow bored with.

    Essentially, the more we have, the more we want and showering Jr. with everything now is setting him up for failure as an adult. I mean to say that he will never learn to be satisfied with what he has and always be searching for satisfaction in material possessions.

    I know that the OP thinks this is an actual dilemma for her but something tells me that despite the fact Jr. has everything, she will find more to give. I bet this is her way of showing love and I agree with you, time spent is worth more than money spent. I would never chastise her or leave a rude comment ( let's face it, she is not going to take her over-ingulged child to a soup kitchen for his Christmas present) let's just tell her what she wants to hear - give him an iPad.

    ReplyDelete