Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dollar Store Wealth

christmas 2007
christmas 2007 (Photo credit: paparutzi)
As I watched the Black Friday mall reports roll in, my mind briefly obsessed about the stupidity and commercialism of the Christmas season (that now apparently starts before Halloween).  I couldn't stay upset for too long though because I love the month of December.  I love cold weather more than hot.  I love baking more than cooking. I love making cards and snail mail.  All of these things make for a month of fun preparation.  One of my favorite traditions is that my family always designs a Christmas card.  My husband and I did this when we first lived together and we have struggled to come to creative consensus each season, for 22 years since.  We also make a lot of our gifts - first as a necessity and now I think, just because we enjoy it.

On our way back from my sister's home for Thanksgiving (over the river and through the woods) we started brainstorming about our card design this year and potential gift ideas.  The whole conversation transported me in time to my teenagers as toddlers. I flashed on the homemade Christmas gifts that they made for aunts and uncles, grandparents and friends - magnets, ornaments, framed art work, and a really fabulous one-of-a-kind handpainted sweatshirt.  Even better were my memories of them taking their allowances and shopping at the Dollar Store.  It was the perfect place for a kindergartner whose life savings came in under $20. $9 = 9 people to find a gift.  I would always foot the taxes, it was too hard to explain to 4 and 6 year olds.

There was inevitably a time in the shopping trip when they would ask me to stay in one specific corner of the store while they shopped for me.  I never second guessed their choices and frequently wished that I was as talented at understanding the interests and quirks of my loved ones when it came to my gifts.  Here is what I noticed early on and what continues to be true today.  No one expected to get a gift from their 4 year old relative but the real gift, pardon the obvious truism, was in the giving.  Taking it one step further, giving meant that they had extra -  bounty - surplus.  That is a powerful feeling for a child.  In the simple act of picking out the perfect coffee mug they were self-directed and in control, not needy or begging from a endless pool of want. Now as teenagers, they have their Christmas wishlist and it includes their own wants and the ways that they want to surprise and splurge on their loved ones. No matter our age, giving always makes us feel good about ourselves.  Let kids feel that wealthy.
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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Humility - Is it Possible Anymore?

020/365 united we stand...
020/365 united we stand... (Photo credit: Joits)
There's been a big pause since my last post.  It's been a busy time for me at my job and quite honestly,  I  wasn't sure what to write about the election. It was the only thing on my mind for awhile but I didn't know how to talk about it here. Now that the ballots are counted though, I do have two thoughts that keep swirling in my head - humility and concern.

Obama and Romney were in a near tie for the popular vote.  Even in the most Republican or most Democrat controlled outposts there was still a respectable contingent voting for the opposing party. (Yes, Virginia, there are Republicans in Chicago.) In theory, whomever wins an election will be making decisions based on the needs of people who voted for and against them. Our leaders may get financed by a specific party but when they arrive in office they are the public servant for everyone. Right?  That's what we say.

Public service to a whole country or state requires genuine concern. True public servants ask questions about what the people need.  The concern, if pursued, demands humility, the deep understanding that none of us knows it all. Is humility possible anymore? Humility requires that we listen to the experiences of others to better inform our limited experiences. 

I've always lived in urban areas and in my circle of friends, growing up, were people who had been injured on their jobs in the Gary steel mills.  Government controls like the Environmental Protection Agency or OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) were just "givens" in my mind.  Everything those agencies did was necessary and important and valued, in my experience.  I was taken aback when I visited rural New York and talked with folks who were small business owners.  They were struggling to absorb the expensive testing and safe disposal fees for their auto body shop.  The same laws that protected one set of my friends were bankrupting others.  I still felt that workplace safety was important but now I better understood the financial impact of those policies and how the issues were so much more complicated.
I hear alot about the need to cut the deficit and have family members who are frustrated about the amount of government supports for the poor. In my own job however, I work with an organization serving the homeless.  I know that ignoring the needs of the poor, regardless of your value system, is expensive to society.  Homeless prevention funding has been reduced dramatically and yet $3,000 in prevention costs, money that keeps a family from ever becoming homeless, can save the community up to $50,000.  Cutting the budget in the area of social services often means more people incurring expensive emergency room care, police costs, and prison expenses for the taxpayers.

The issues are always like this - complex, nuanced, and not served very well by hyperbole and name calling.
The time for sound bites is over for now.  We need to move our conversations to a more productive and less condemning place.  With a little bit of humility and the willingness to listen to another's perspective, we might just have a chance to talk about solutions instead of blame. We might be able to improve our problems a small fraction instead of worrying about being 100% "right".  We need to practice that lost art of conversation and teach the kids in our life about it as well.  If we do, maybe we'll raise a few future public servants that actually know how to think about all of us.
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