The past several days I’ve been musing on the chosen strategies employed by the privileged and the well-educated to solve societal problems. In particular, I’ve been contemplating the idea of poverty. As is typical for me, I’ve been seeking to find intersections and similarities between seemingly divergent topics, all in the hopes of eliminating confusion among everyone. Sometimes we disagree because we inadvertently work at cross-purposes to each other. The anecdote to follow illustrates how social class muddies the waters quite considerably, and how in the process we often find ourselves talking past one another. I’ve found this exercise personally helpful in many instances, and I tell it now in the hopes that readers might feel the same.
Jul 19 2010
Dec 20 2009
While I and millions of DC residents are cleaning up after a huge snow storm, I look out my window this morning and notice strangers giving aid and assistance to drivers of cars stuck out in the wintry mix. Stodgy, suspicious, ponderous Washington has momentarily set aside its default setting to lend a hand. It is only when events this big and massive disrupt the status quo that this city shrinks in size and shared humanity begins to creep into the proceedings. DC is a city full of cross-currents and diversity, so it is rare that anyone is truly on the same page with another for very long. A Type A city ruled by Type A people means that often everyone is in a hurry going nowhere for no good reason, utterly consumed with their work to the detriment of every other facet of their lives. Though retailers will undoubtedly even lose money here in these crucial days leading up to Christmas, I can’t say that I am entirely saddened by the development.
Had this been any average year, the media would have run half a dozen stories (or more) gently chiding us for again, yet another year, completely destroying the meaning of the Christmas season. Many of us would assume our time-honored roles, mournfully nodding our heads up in down to signify that we agreed, but could find no solution to stop the orgiastic aspects of capitalism from overrunning the most important of holidays. A recession ought not only provide purely negative consequences. If we can learn from it, then all is not lost. If we are to face discomfort and pain, my hope is that we can understand that simplicity is a virtue, not a hindrance, and that accumulating possessions is a bit like accumulating inches of snow. In the beginning, it’s fun, but after a while, it begin to pose a serious problem. Not only that, others who believe in the grass is greener principle have a tendency to envy accumulation without understanding its notable drawbacks.
I personally am enjoying fewer crowds, less traffic, and less panicked looks. That it took a weakened economy and with it the loss of buying power surprises me not a bit. If the free market promised freedom from producing more problems than it fixes, I would be wholeheartedly in its corner. Some of the strongest people I ever met were those of my grandparents’ generation, who had faced a Great Depression and a World War, and whose iron resolve and stoic attitude showed the results of having gone fifteen rounds with hardship and tragedy and emerged stronger than steel. No shrinking violets were they.
As for these times, the only time I saw anything remotely similar to the traditional Christmas insanity was Friday of this past week, shortly before the snow fell, when thousands upon thousands of residents in our nation’s capital rushed madly to scoop up enough provisions and finish up their seasonal shopping. Everyone seems to be cutting back this year and I certainly am as well. Some have mentioned that the tinsel and electric excitement that requires a robust pocketbook is lacking, making this a bummer of a Season’s Greetings, at which point I suppose I have to note that I have grown so cynical about Christmas reality that I have embraced a kind of deliberately sparse rendering. All that twinkles is not gold. Some might assume that less money in the bank is the true War on Christmas™, though I believe that to be the overwhelming opinion of bankers.
The generation of my parents’ parents have been romanticized as “The Greatest Generation” but while the moniker is fitting, I saw nothing particularly superhuman about them. They were indebted to the same flaws as humanity has displayed ever since humans began to walk upright. If we faced the same challenges and abject perils as they, I am firmly convinced that we too would respond the identical way they did. The human body and the human mind have a way of being incredibly adaptive to adversity. It is fashionable in some circles to take pot shots at Baby Boomers or their children out of some desire to shame us all into acting properly or that we might better appreciate that which has fallen into our lap, but I will refrain from that line here. We have been incredibly fortunate, certainly, but neither do I think beating us over the head with our privilege is much of a solution. My hope is that we will retain the memory of what it felt like to not revel in excess and that we will apply those examples to our own lives and to the lives of those who we directly influence.
If this were truly some pitched battle against all that is sacred and holy against Christmas, then the true enemies would not be a secular society gone wildly astray, having embraced the confusion of political correctness. Instead, the enemies would be those people and things which fool us into thinking that we are the center of the universe and that there is no need to take into account the lives and struggles of our fellow beings. As I said before, 364 days out of the year, this city runs on the twin forces of preoccupation and workaholicism, but it has only been now when the roads are still largely impassible, many businesses and places are still unreachable or closed, and public transportation is barely functional that we recognize the folly of our ways. Still, I imagine a thousand nervous fingers madly punching keys on their Blackberries, expecting a fresh batch of places to go, people to see, and things to do.
I know personally of many people who believe that bringing their work home with them aids and assists those in need. Worthy causes exist, of course, and the belief among many is working themselves to death provides help to those who would otherwise not have it. I know others who have built their entire self-esteem, self-image, and self in their vocation, at the expense of any other facet in their life. This is tragedy to the extreme. We lose our humanity when we become robotic and monolithic. DC needs a snow day like this to re-think its priorities and my hope is that it doesn’t take a series of blizzards, both literal and figurative, to change the conventional wisdom.