1st World Santa

Posted: December 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

This week my service club had a little generic harmless holiday cheer. I generally dread these kind of don’t offend anybody watered down Christmas pretenders. But okay, I can endure cultural Christmas a little bit.

Let me skip to the end and then I’ll go back to the middle.

The capstone of the morning was an appearance by the man in red, yes, Santa himself. This was a low energy Santa but he got the job done. But wait, there’s more! The gift passed out to each person in the room was a Missouri Lottery scratch off card. Yeah, that’s right. Right in the heart of the spirit of giving (and that’s how this mock Christmas was interpreted to us) is an indirect system of public taxation, one that often preys on the false hopes of the most desperate who squander their meager wages on a false bet. Ho Ho Ho.

But that was the end of the meeting. Back we go to the middle.

I love my friends in my club. They are fine and compassionate and caring people. Even at pretend Christmas they are all those things. It is important to say that before I talk about what came next. We were shown an inspirational video of an airline company that had a relationship with a third-world country. Over the past few years they have been building some houses there. What we were shown, however, was a big staged production of a Christmas party for them. Actually, it was a Santa party. They brought in video gear and set up an interactive “you can tell Santa what you want in your language and he will talk back to you” setup. So people sat in front of a screen and told Santa everything they wanted. Some things were predictable, such as the desires of children like skateboards. Adults had more serious requests like a motor or a horse. Okay fine.

Then the behind the scenes team scrambled to gather or assemble all these requests. This eventuated in a big Santa party on the beach in which the desires of all the townspeople were presented, one at a time. Their names were called out and the toy or motor or animal would appear. Santa was on hand, just like at our club. To their credit they also built a playground near a school.

All the while that my fellow club members were wiping tears from their eyes I was thinking to myself, “This is the perfect example of toxic charity, the kind of giving that harms people and creates the wrong kind of relationship.” Just think. Could there be a more indicting image than this: well-meaning 1st world people acting like Santa Claus? We’ve done that for decades and to the detriment of most of the developing world. It has not resulted in progress or lasting change or real sustainable development. If giving out stuff is all it takes to bring about transformation then the world would be different by now. This group dramatized the perfectly worst way you could ever relate to neighbors. Is Easter next? What, an Easter egg roll on the beach?

Let’s not jump to blame too quickly. We are all culpable. They simply dramatized what the rest of us have also done in one way or the other.

Our job is not to create unequal relationships of giver and receiver in which we pat ourselves on the back for what fine people we are to throw such a touching party. Our job is not to disempower people by forcing them into the grateful receiver role. Our job is not create in others the same consumer mentality that has wrecked our lives.

Stay home Santa. We’ll try to do something else all the rest of the year and try as best we can not to harm as we do it. Really, stay home.

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