Tuesday, December 30, 2008

FSM bless Us, Every One!

At this time of year I always indulge in a viewing of A Muppet Christmas Carol, at least once, and often any other version of the delightful workings of Mr Dickens' original story. This year saw my discovery of a recent British version, featuring the thuggish Ross Kemp as a loan shark on a London housing estate. I watched it three times, forcing different family members to sit with me each time.

This may seem a bit strange to those of you who have to deal with my usual "Bah! Humbug" attitude to Christmas with all of its modern trappings, but I will defend myself (of course). It is not the notion of a Christian Christmas that Dickens and I want to espouse, but the spirit of the season--the idea that every human being has intrinsic value; that every person has something to give, from the little drummer boy to the most exalted saint. This is the basic philosophy of humanism:
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
which is the opening sentence of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (my emphasis).

Here in Australia, the government's response to the current global economic crisis included a one-time cash payment of $1000 per child to every family earning less than a certain income threshold.* The government encouraged families to spend this money on goods and services in the lead-up to Christmas, with the idea of boosting the economy.

I have found the Scrooge-like reactions appalling. One relative, who will remain nameless, complained that her family did not qualify for the payment because their household income was too high: "It sends the wrong message," she said, "to single mothers with five children by six different fathers, who think they can just go out and have more children and the government will give them more money." (That's a loose approximation, not a direct quote, but you get the gist.) "While hardworking people like us get nothing to help with our two mortgages and cable television subscriptions and air-conditioning repairs," she continued in the same vein. In my mind, I could hear Scrooge: "My taxes pay for the poorhouses and prisons, let them go there!"

There have been numerous news stories about families hit by the economic crisis. Last night, a family of four on the television news were shown sitting in front of their widescreen television and wondering how they were going to afford holidays next year when their mortgage payments go up. The other day a couple in the newspaper complained because it was becoming too expensive for her to drive their 4WD from the inner city to the outer suburbs four times a week to visit an elderly parent, while he claimed he had tried taking public transport to the movies instead of driving, "but it is so annoying because sometimes I have to wait for a train". I just want to grab these people by the shoulders and shake them, while shouting, "You are not poor! These are not sacrifices!"

I think it's partly the media's fault for encouraging the whingeing. It doesn't sell newspapers if you have headlines saying, "Poor people still unaffected by mortgage rate rises" or "Tax breaks no help for chronically unemployed" or "Pensioner spends government handout on food and clothing".

As the old year passes and a new one begins, I will be making a resolution to "honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." I will be thankful for what I have, seek opportunities to share it with those less fortunate, and look for the unique gifts that every person in society can offer. I hope you will too.

* Disclaimer: we didn't qualify for the payment because we earn too much, a fact which makes me both proud and humble.

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