Holiday Message

Written by larry on December 22nd, 2013

Its easy to get cynical about the holiday season. And if you’re not of the dominant religion, its also easy to start wondering about whether it even has any relevance. But there are universal truths to be had, and one of them is the value of generosity.

Robert Heinlein‘s round-the-world travelogue Tramp Royale was originally written in 1953 and 1954, but not published until 1992, several years after his death. And it wasn’t until last week that I began reading it. Given that it’s sixty years old, it’s held up reasonably well. The Old Master’s voice rings clear, and the inevitable anachronisms read (at least to me) as quaint, rather than irrelevant.

There is a passage where he and Virginia befriend a few young children in Lima, Peru; street urchins, really. The kids were staring forlornly into the window of a toy store, a place they’d never be of the means to enjoy. The Heinleins took them into the store and bought them each a toy, pleasantly surprised that the kids made only modest requests. In describing the event, Mr. Heinlein penned this gem:

One of the real magics in life is the fact that wealth can always be
multiplied by dividing by the age of the donor.

That’s something important to be reminded of from time to time. As a child, my family was not of the means that there was much opportunity to teach the lesson of charity, and I had to start figuring it out for my own later in life. And it still doesn’t come as naturally as it perhaps does to others.

But one of the upsides of getting on in years is that acts of generosity become easier. There’s a huge gray area between destitute and financially independent, and I’m fortunate enough at this point in my life to be living there. Sure, I’d prefer to be on the right side of the bell curve, but the fact that I’m somewhere in the middle doesn’t preclude me from helping some other folks move from the left toward the middle, however infinitesimally.

So as I age, I find myself making donations more frequently, giving gifts where none are called for, and tipping from a baseline of twenty percent rather than fifteen. That extra buck or two at the restaurant is a far bigger fraction of the waitress’s take-home pay than it was mine, and the interesting thing about it is that it makes us both feel good. If there’s a downside, I can’t see it.

There are those who say “Christmas Spirit” is merely the behavior that we should all be exhibiting every day of the year, but don’t. I’d argue that no matter what our average behavior, an annual reminder isn’t such a bad thing.

So Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, or whatever else applies. And remember that no matter what your circumstances, there are those worse off than you, and this might be a good time for an act of generosity.


Comments are closed.