Avoiding the ‘c’ word PART THREE

Board Games. They are part of the festivities yes?  Or as I see them BORED Games.   Monopoly. I’ve never seen something more able to cause dissent in a group of people. Cheating… naked greed… look no  further.  And then there was Trivial Pursuit.  Well, the clue’s in the title.

Personally I see Trivia versus Integrity as the battle of my time.  I am embarked upon ‘A Life Less Trivial’ and it’s quite a journey.  Trivia is quite easily avoided (for me at any rate) but it has begun to occur to me that integrity itself is sometimes a luxury.  And if you’ve been following thus far you’ll know what I think about luxury!

What do I mean, integrity is a luxury? Well, I am  a pacifist. But I have come to appreciate that this is in part a luxury of my upbringing. I’ve never had to confront the real situation where I am forced to choose about taking life. I consider myself lucky. I hope I would remain with my integrity intact if I had to make the choice. My luxury is that I don’t have to consider ‘the end justifies the means’ in anything other than a theoretical context.  Theory and practice don’t always accord though.  Who we want to be and who we are when tested might well be at great variance. My luxury is that I’ve never been thus tested.  I’ve never had to live my theory in practice.

Theoretically, I don’t believe the end ever justifies the means.  But I think that if pushed, my integrity in this position might be sorely tempted. The best I’ve ever come up with is the hope that  I would remain true (as Che Guevara did) to the position that the end does not justify the means but that sometimes, when circumstances dictate that we have to do BAD things to help others, for a greater cause, we should do them.  This is where personal responsibility kicks in.  If you do have to act thus (as Guevara and many others had to) you need to be prepared to take the full responsibility for the ‘bad’ action.  And be prepared to live with the personal and moral consequences. I hope this would be my position should I face the practical challenge. I hope I wouldn’t just give in. As it is, I’m lucky. I’ve never had to sacrifice my integrity to a cause or a reality. It’s the only luxury I’m prepared to allow myself. And it comes at a price. I know that. I’m lucky to be able to afford it.

But of course in reality I do take lives. I do ‘cost’ lives. We all do. Our luxury. Our want. Our aspiration. Everything we do every day is at the indirect cost of someone else’s life. I find that hard to live with. I do what I can to alleviate it. But it’s never enough. I do, however, feel the responsibility. Keenly. I try not to be wasteful of time, money or my skills. I try to share where I can, give when I can. Because I know it’s just an accident of birth that I’m here living this privileged life and I know there are plenty of other people who, if given the same chance, might make a better fist of it.  So at least my responsibility is not to let them down. I feel a responsibility to make the best I can of my life. It’s a daily commitment. And I never forget ‘words that do not match deeds are unimportant.’ So I’m not just saying that!

So much for theory. What of the practical? What will I be eating next week? No idea. Whatever is in the fridge and the polytunnel. We’ll eat well, believe me.  It will include rice, beans and porridge along the way but through choice not necessity.  Come to think of it I don’t even know what day of the week your ‘c’ day is this year, though I’m sure the TV will start reminding me constantly.  I tend to use this time of year to catch up on work, avoid the TV with all its ‘c’ fest, but there’s always some friend or family member will ring to remind me. Thanks for that.

If you’ve read this far I hope you might actually see that I’m not just a miserable old git. This is a matter of principle for me. I’m just a person who genuinely can’t understand the hypocrisy all around me in my society. And who wishes it would change. We don’t have to ‘do’ ‘c’ at all. So if we do it, we choose to do it. I choose not to. Isn’t that the sort of democratic freedom we all aspire towards? And yet, all of you who try to push ‘c’ upon me, or who berate me for not engaging with it on your terms, are you not denying me a freedom? The freedom to opt out.  Could you at least give me that? For Christmas if you must. After all, I’ve just given you the gift of honest opinion.

In the past decade I transitioned from being ‘anti’ capitalist to being ‘non’capitalist in word and deed and next year I’ll try and become ‘non’ Christmas instead of ‘anti’ Christmas.  I have a thought of eating nothing but porridge, rice and beans for a fortnight and donating the money I’d spend on food to charity so that other people get more than that to eat themselves. Now that would be ‘giving’ wouldn’t it?  I don’t imagine it’s a campaign I’d ever get anyone to join, but I’ll keep chipping away at the ‘c’ word. I’ll do what I can. Of course the delicious irony of that may be that in my actions, I may exhibit more of the real spirit of ‘C’ than most of those who ‘celebrate.’  Irony is perhaps one of life’s other modern little luxuries.

So hopefully for us all this is my first and last public ‘anti’ ‘C’ rant. Roll on 2014.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: If you’ve GOT to buy someone something this festive season how about Oxfam Unwrapped or other charitable gifts? There are plenty you can find online with just a couple of mouse clicks!

Or  even better, give your time or love to someone who doesn’t get enough of either.  And give till it hurts. Give to someone who needs it, not just to someone you want to give to! 

But please. Don’t give me ANYTHING. I have more than enough of everything I need.  You can give my share to someone who needs it more.

Avoiding the ‘c’ word PART TWO

You could of course be forgiven for thinking that ‘c’ time is nothing to do with giving at all. It’s all about the food. It’s all about having the biggest blow out imaginable and feeling sick before you leave the table and then eating more.  I have some issues with this as well (it may not surprise you to hear) and they start with the appropriateness of ‘feasting’ in the modern world.  We have forgotten that food is fuel. Food is now aspirational and as such a perfect adjunct to the unholy ‘c’ trinity.

I don’t like shopping at the best of times. I do it for food (as infrequently as possible since I grow as much as I can myself) but since I don’t keep a cow, I do have to pay rather too regular visits to the emporiums of food heaven.  Other shops I can largely avoid, but food shopping is something that I’ve yet not managed to conquer. But when ‘c’ season begins, I become increasingly uncomfortable. This year, so uncomfortable that I determined to avoid them from the first jingling santa sounds. I did one big stock up mid November and my goal is to avoid large food stores till January.  It’s the only way for me.

While the shops are generally full of too many choices (all of which only serve to remind me how few choices many other people have), come the ‘c’ season they are simply filled with things to make you ‘want’ them. Things you would never otherwise think of and things you certainly don’t need –either to give or be given – but which just beg you to spend money on them. Things which were probably often made by people for whom the ‘C’ word is just another part of the misery of their lives.  Things and food. And more things. And more food. And…  I’m sorry, I find it obscene. The only time I can stand supermarkets is when they have a day where they ask you to buy food for food banks and donate it. They should do this every day.  Of course they should be giving their own out of date stuff away too, but it’s good for us to have the opportunity to give directly.  It’s not so easy to just buy some food and give it to a ‘poor’ person on the street. Though a man I’m proud to call my pal Mark Frankland runs a foodbank as part of his charity in Dumfries and I’m sure he’d be glad of donations.  Direct action is always better than indirect action.

While we’re on the food gravy train, recently, I watched ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here.’ Food was a big issue. They kept going on about how awful it was to be living (partly) on beans and rice. No one seemed moved to use the opportunity to point out that many people live like this (or worse) every day of their lives. For many people rice, or beans, or maize porridge is their only food. And no one seemed to address the question: How can we sit down at ‘c’ dinner and feast while millions of people are starving? Sorry, make that starving unnecessarily. It’s simple. I can’t. I don’t. And I won’t.  I know that this makes me a total killjoy to my culture. I’m not even sorry about it. I can’t believe how obsessed people are with food these days. The idea that we should gorge ourselves stupid on ‘tasty treats’ or luxury items as a gift to ourselves for putting up with the crap world we live in seems to be more prevalent.  But the realisation that we’re all partially responsible for the world being so crap in the first place seems to escape us.

Why do we need to reward ourselves? And why with food? Why do we all need to be part of aspirational living?  Why do we aspire to be able to go beyond need into luxury? One of my very first online ‘spats’ happened in a forum many years back where someone suggested that ‘we all need a bit of luxury now and again.’ I think it was in the context of taking a holiday to Disneyworld or some such. I pointed out that we NEVER NEED luxury. I wasn’t invited back. I didn’t care. Now this is my blog. And you have the choice not to come back if I’m offending you. I won’t care. If my thoughts on the ‘c’ word offend you, you’re unlikely to want to read anything else I write. So do yourself a favour. Don’t. Because for me, writing is creative communication. And I try to keep it to things that I feel have meaning and/or matter.  You want trivia, go elsewhere.  I believe there are a number of places making a very nice living from the twitbook style of life.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY.  Food is fuel not part of an aspirational lifestyle. Why should some of us be filling ourselves with the highest quality fuel and leaving others without the basics?  We need to redress the balance between want and need. 

Avoiding the ‘c’ word PART ONE

Okay. Usually this time of year I keep my head down and my mouth shut. I don’t want to be the ‘bah humbug’ who spoils everyone else’s good time. But I’m sorry. I’ve had more than a gutful already this year and you don’t have to read it if it’s going to upset you. You have a choice.  For me, the choice to avoid ‘c’ is becoming ever more difficult. I do what I can and I’ve tried very hard over the years to completely eradicate all vestiges but it is absolutely impossible to do. It seems to start earlier every year. This year, long before St Andrews Day happened, the shops were already filled with the jangling that presages what seems now destined to be six weeks of utter indiscriminate c-like behaviour.

Also, of course I’m not having a go at the ‘converted’. It’s a general rant so don’t imagine that the few (happy few) of you who actually read this are the ‘target’.  As always, the people who REALLY need to read this will be the ones who never see it.  Here goes:

What does the ‘c’ word mean to you?  C is for Christmas (Christianity implied) but it’s also part of an unholy trinity in my experience.  C is for Christmas and C is for Capitalism and Consumerism.  I am not a fan of any of these. I don’t participate. That’s why I don’t ‘celebrate’ Christmas.

Following some very unpleasant childhood ‘c’s, I’ve spent all my adult life trying to avoid ‘c’ engagement. I’ve been to many extremes. For example in 2000 I went to China, figuring that in that Communist bastion Christmas (as in Narnia) would be non-existant. Poor foolish me.  It was everywhere. Jangling music in the hotel constantly and all the Chinese I spoke to were just amazed that I wouldn’t be with my family at Christmas.  I got the impression that they saw Christmas as two things. 1) a Western version of Chinese New Year and 2) a cash cow.  Because the economics of  ‘C’ were (and doubtless are) as important to the Chinese as they are to us.  After all, they spend a lot of their time making the things we spend money on for Christmas.

Oh the giving. Or should that be oh the buying?  Because the ‘c’ word seems to have lost its way mightily when we talk of the spirit of giving.  The ‘C’ season is the ultimate orgy of consumerism.  We may ‘give’ things to other people but it seems to me the joy of giving for most people is actually the joy of buying things (whether the recipients want or need them or not). I’ve tried for many years to train my friends and family (such as they are) that if they  really do have to engage with the ‘c’ word and me, I’d prefer that instead of buying me something, they give something. It seems to me that if you have to engage with the spirit of ‘c’ you should really GIVE. Give to someone who needs something. And give them something they need.  I’ve failed pretty spectacularly in this endeavour.

After a period of years of giving others Oxfam Unwrapped (or similar) they have just about got to grips with the idea that I don’t DO Xmas. But I fear this is simply interpreted as a knowledge that they needn’t expect gifts from me that are ‘worth’ anything.  You’d think that would be enough to stop them buying me gifts. No. They still buy things that they want to buy.  It seems that spending money on a ‘gift’ that is actually a charity donation is way beyond their ken. That’s not what money is for at ‘c’ time now is it? No, it’s so that the buyer can enjoy the unholy trinity of ‘c’ness and tell themselves they are doing something nice for someone else. Hollow laugh. Not one of the people who comes into my ‘c’ sphere has got to grips with the fact that actually the thing I’d most like to receive for ‘c’ (if I have to) would be the knowledge that instead of buying something for me they have given money to charity.  Or even given their time to someone less fortunate. It doesn’t have to be a money transaction.  But that’s way too far for people to comprehend, I accept that.  I’m come to realise my idea of ‘giving’ is never going to happen. The best I can hope for is to get nothing (which is good because at least no money has been wasted!) but the more usual scenario is that I get something I don’t need and probably don’t want. That makes me feel bad, so in reparation what I do is give money to charity myself to the value of said unnecessary gift. So I do their giving for them. I don’t know what else to do. But every year I become more bemused by why it’s so difficult for people to ‘give’ rather than ‘buy’.  Why it’s about ‘want’ not ‘need.’

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY:   Don’t give to make yourself feel good. Give to make someone else feel better.Give till it hurts. And then give a bit more. 

I’ll be back with part two tomorrow for those of strong stomachs!

Starting tomorrow…

A three part anti festive commentary. With no carols, tinsel or glitter in sight. You have been warned.  But I thought I’d give all my readers the gift of my honest opinion and the opportunity to give me the right to opt out of the whole affair without being accused of being a killjoy!

This will fill the gap while I’m trying to get my Mandela piece written. While it’s nice and easy  to post quickly on a blog,  reflection does take some time and I’m still coming to terms with the last week which I spent in South Africa. Courtesy of the virtual world.

But while you’re waiting, here’s some music. It’s possibly the single most influential piece of music on my life. Enjoy. TURN UP LOUD AND LEARN TO SING ALONG.

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