As increasing hoards of festive shoppers get ready to hit the shopping malls and online stores, Voice of a Global Warrior invites us to re-think the meaning of gifting and giving.
It is beyond cliché at this point to note that the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas has become obscured by rampant commercialism and unchecked consumption.
This, of course, depends on what the ‘true meaning’ is to you – and whether indeed, you even observe Christmas at all.
Amongst the many millions who do, it can be about religion and faith. For others it is about spending time with family and loved ones. For others the true meaning is the commercialism and consumption, so what’s all the fuss about?!
The end of capitalism or the end of the world?
You could regard Christmas as the capitalist experience in a nutshell. And let’s not forget the many other major celebration dates around globe such as Chinese New Year, Diwali and Singles’ Day (again China), now the single biggest shopping day in the world.
Most of us are uncomfortable with the wastefulness and inequity at these times, but it’s hard to imagine an alternative. The philosopher Frederic Jameson famously remarked that “it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”.
Well, recent evidence from the global scientific community is strongly suggesting that this is the choice we face as a species. From this perspective you could say that what we face is not a crisis of the environment but a crisis of the imagination.
Can we collectively conceive of a society that is driven by anything other than the compulsive acquisition and hoarding of goods and capital?
Be a Go-Giver
The good news is that the blueprint for such a society is out there. One of the key texts for this alternative way of being is the book ‘The Go-Giver’. Written by Bob Burg and John David Mann, it took the business world by storm in 2007 with a message that many experienced as both inspirational and counter-intuitive.
Burg and Mann proposed that the most effective way to not just turn a profit in business but to find fulfilment in life is to shift our focus away from what we can get towards what we can give.
This was received as a radical proposition because that is not how capitalism says the world is meant to work. The capitalist view of the world is that the forces of supply and demand will dictate a fair price that you have to pay me for what I have to offer.
On that basis we have become a world where capitalism is not just the predominant economic and political model, it is how most of us unconsciously approach our own lives and relationships.
You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
I’m not going to make her a coffee; she never makes one for me.
Why should I go out of my way for him, he wasn’t exactly helpful when I needed a hand last week.
It would be nice to catch up, but it’s her turn to call me.
We talk about trusting people when they have earned our trust. Emotions become commodities. Relationships become a series of transactions.
We become so preoccupied with what a particular action might cost us, that we lose sight of what the value of that action might be to me, to someone else, to the world.
‘Random Acts of Kindness’
If you Google the term ‘random acts of kindness’ you will be overwhelmed by stories about people who gave of themselves with absolutely no expectation of anything in return.
Sometimes these were grand financial gifts to people in urgent need. Sometimes they were small gestures to people who just looked like they could use a hand.
What consistently comes through is that the people who commit these random acts are doing so with a broader sense of the value of their actions. For them it’s not a deposit into the bank of a particular relationship, to be withdrawn at a later date – they are paying into a bigger fund; building the capital of humanity.
And while these ‘random acts’ are by their nature unconditional, it is amazing to note how often selfless generosity finds itself being reciprocated.
In 2013 a homeless man called Glen James was sitting outside a branch of TK Maxx in Boston. Nearby he noticed another man sitting on a bench with a black bag at his feet. When he looked again the man was gone, but the bag remained. On going over to investigate he found inside the bag over $42,000 in cash and travellers cheques. For James – homeless for five years and surviving on spare change and food stamps – this was a life-changing sum of money.
But, without a moment’s hesitation, he located the nearest police officer and handed over the bag, which was reunited with its rightful owner within the day. When word of James’ actions reached the media a member of the public set up a GoFundMe page to reward him. Within two days it had raised $105,000. Many thousands of people were inspired by one man’s act of selflessness to one of their own.
The resonance of kindness
And this is the magic of these acts of kindness and unconditional generosity – they do not just reciprocate, they resonate: out into the world, changing the system in unknown and incalculable ways.
And it’s the ‘incalculable’ part that the relationship capitalists struggle with – if you can’t quantify it, what is it worth? Does it even exist?
We put it to you that it does exist – and that it is worth more than we can currently conceive of from within the story of capitalism. We propose that we urgently need a radical shift in our story; that our continued survival as a species depends on it.
More than this, we propose that a world built on kindness won’t just be one that will continue to support our survival; it will be one that is rich and abundant in ways that we cannot even imagine at this point.
You know how it feels when you connect tenderly with another human; you know how it feels to give of yourself and have that gift be received with appreciation.
Our challenge to you is this: this December, be a Go-Giver.
Focus not on what you get but on what you can give. And be conscious of what you give – give your time, give your energy, give praise, give love, give thanks. Do something selfless that pays into the common fund of humanity.
Through these small acts of kindness we can create a new world.
Season’s Greetings and Greater Kindness to all!