Monday, November 14, 2011

The Season of Giving and Sharing Revisited

Well, we are now on that slippery slope that leads to Thanksgiving, Christmas and a New Year. For many, it is either “Ho, Ho, Ho” or “Ho hum”. For some, it may be an excuse to acquire, an excuse to shop, an excuse to spend and indulge, and for some to boost their image. We have, after all, been well trained to feed the capitalist system by spending.

But, I sometimes wonder if we are really fulfilled by the excesses of Holiday spending. Does spending give us a feeling of power? I know it place stresses on us and our society that are difficult to overcome: financial burdens, obligations, waste creation are but a few of such stresses.

My observations of today’s society is not a happy one for me. I see that there is a great deal of existence and experience that is extremely shallow and solitary, if not outright alienating. Polar extremes of opinion keep people from thinking and acting toward a via media that might prove to make life better for more people. The greed of the top 1% percent, as well as that of those political leaders who are charged with the responsibility of overseeing the general welfare of all citizens, is all too transparent; not a day goes by when there is not some new scandal having to do with public money being misused.

Growing up, as I did, within the roiling foment of the 1960s, it is hard to see that we fulfilled those needs we peacefully marched for. While there is greater parity, there are now even greater divides and millions more examples of small-minded thinking to overcome. We may be created equal, but there is no equal treatment to be had.

Growing up, as I did, in a time of seeming plenty, I look around now and see that current events and trends have people afraid for their financial and personal security. Our natural resources are being consumed at ever greater rates, often expended for the sake of cheaply manufactured items that all to easily become broken and toxic trash. While we pride ourselves for our recycling efforts, but the truth is that much of what America recycles is sent to be processed overseas. While vast amounts of money are spent on maintaining the status quo of toxic and endangered energy, not all that much is spent to develop new technologies that might turn our recycling into more localized business that creates or renews energy.

Knowing this, one thing we can do is conscientiously work to reduce our waste.

During the great SpendFest of the 1980s and 1990s, we were taught that catalog purchases meant we could have anything at anytime. All well and good, but the waste of packaging materials and fuel used in shipping can add irresponsibly to our environmental dilemma. The avalanche of catalogs, themselves, add to our landfill! One of the most egregious examples of such catalog purchasing happens when people order perishable foods, such as steaks, and have them shipped to the giftee—think about the giant box with the additional Styrofoam insert box, dry ice and other materials added just to send a couple of steaks that, let’s face it, aren’t worth all that effort and waste. Much better to send a gift certificate for a lovely meal at a fine restaurant local to the giftee. 

One thing is very clear: More than ever, people need each other, we need to share what we have, pool resources and avoid unnecessary waste.

Here are a few ideas for sustainable, seasonal or year-round giving:

* Buy locally made items – support local business, Made in USA and Union Labor
* Support your local Food Bank and/or Animal Shelter with a donation
* Give gift certificates presented in handcrafted cards
* When there is a two-for-one sale, particularly on food items, take the deal and donate the second item to the local Food Bank or Soup Kitchen
* Re-gift quality items from your home that you no longer need
* Likewise, your local second hand shop is a local business where you can find treasures less expensive but every bit as good as new retail items
* Before running them to the thrift shop, consider donating old, but still useable clothing or new underwear and socks to the local homeless shelter
* Play, Movie or concert tickets make and unexpected wonderful gifts
* Make a home cooked meal or prepare baked goods or jams or candies for friends
* Repurpose baskets with gifts of canned delicacies or crafted items
* If you know do-it-yourselfers, gift certificates at auto parts, hobby shops, craft supply or hardware stores might be just the thing
* Rather than a once-a-year donation to local shelters or food banks, consider a monthly contribution—these concerns don’t just need money at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but all year long!
* Comic pages from the Sunday paper make colorful and compostable giftwrap!
* These ideas may just have given you an idea or two—or twelve!

Obviously, a lot more could be said in this article. The short of it is that we can find new, creative and thoughtful ways of responsibly sharing and caring and celebrating with each other this year. It might mean an investment of more time and thought, but the results can only make you feel good about what you are doing—leading to less of that post-holiday let down.

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