John Whitehead's Commentary
How to Recapture the True Spirit of Christmas in a Toxic Age
“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.” ― Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Christmas
I keep waiting to encounter the “kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant” Christmastime environment that Charles Dickens describes in A Christmas Carol: “when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
Instead, every time I read a news headline or flip on the television or open up an email, I run headlong into people consumed with back-biting, partisan politics, sniping, toxic hate, meanness, unfriending and materialism.
How is it that despite all of the blessings and advantages we in the United States possess, as a nation we continue to major in minors, prioritizing politics and profit margins over decency and human-kindness?
We’ve been operating in this topsy-turvy, inside-out, upside-down state of being for too long now, but the absence of goodwill, charity and human kindness is especially apparent now, with Christmas just around the corner when, as Charles Dickens notes, “Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.”
For instance, Americans spent an estimated $6.9 billion dollars on federal elections in 2016. And what do we have to show for it? More of the same. The halls of Congress and the White House are as polluted as ever.
The country’s endless wars, foreign occupations and targeted drone killings have stretched our military thin, robbed us of resources needed to shore up our infrastructure, and left us vulnerable to blowback, and yet the U.S. government has committed close to $6 trillion to advance wars in the Middle East and prop up the military industrial complex.
Pork barrel legislation, waste, corruption and general mismanagement have also contributed to the government’s ballooning $20 trillion debt. Yet the politicians continue to find ways steal from those who can least afford it, while leading lives of luxury and excess.
Local governments continue to enact policies criminalizing homelessness and making it difficult for those who attempt to feed or shelter the homeless. Yet on any given night, more than 500,000 homeless Americans sleep on the streets or in emergency shelters; more than half of New Yorkers are one paycheck away from homelessness; and one out of every 6 children in the United States doesn’t know when their next meal will be.
To sum things up, Americans have shelled out trillions of dollars of hard-earned tax dollars on political circuses, war machines and graft that fed no one, clothed no one, sheltered no one, and did not in any way shift the balance of power in the country between the haves (the oligarchic elite that runs Washington DC) and the have nots (the millions of taxpayers whose needs are not being heard or represented, and who must labor to pay for the corruption, excesses and graft of the power elite).
When will we ever learn?
Before you know it, Christmas will be a distant memory and we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming of politics, war, violence, materialism and mayhem.
There may not be much we can do to avoid the dismal reality of the police state in the long term—not so long as the powers-that-be continue to call the shots and allow profit margins to take precedence over the needs of people—but in the short term, there are things we can all do right now to make this world (or at least our small corners of it) just a little bit kinder, a little less hostile and a lot more helpful to those in need.
If we want it badly enough, that is.
As John Lennon reminded us, “War is over, if you want it.”
Those last four words are key: “if you want it.” What we must ask ourselves is how badly do we really want peace, a world without hatred and war, and an end to hunger and disease? As Lennon pointed out, “If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.”
No matter what one’s budget, religion, or political persuasion, here are a few things we can do right now to beat the police state blues and recapture the true spirit of Christmas.
Tone down the partisan rhetoric, the “us” vs. “them” mentality. Politicians frequently perpetuate a “good” versus “evil,” “us” versus “them” rhetoric which pits citizen against citizen and allows the politicians to advance their personal, political agendas. Instead of wasting time and resources on political infighting, which gets us nowhere, it’s time Americans learned to work together to solve the problems before us. The best place to start is in your own communities, neighbor to neighbor.
Minimize the technology and tune into what’s happening in your family, in your community and your world. Ration your screen time. Minimize your exposure to social media. Trade virtual communities for real ones. Get involved with a nonprofit that works in your community. Greet your neighbors. Make time for family meals. Spend time talking to each other instead of at each other. Whatever you do, reduce your intake of mindless television and entertainment news. The only reality programming worth taking notice of is the one playing in your home and community.
Show compassion to those in need, be kind to those around you, forgive those who have wronged you, and teach your children to do the same. Increasingly, people seem to be forgetting their p’s and q’s—basic manners that were drilled into older generations. I’m talking about simple things like holding a door open for someone, helping someone stranded on the side of the road, and saying “please” and “thank you” to those who do you a service—whether it be to the teenager bagging your groceries or the family member who just passed the potatoes.
Talk less, listen more. Take less, and give more. If people spent less time dwelling on and attending to their own needs and more time trying to help and understand those around them, many of the problems we currently face could be eliminated. Instead of counting your many complaints, count your blessings and pay them forward. Here’s where I’ll put in a plug for The Rutherford Institute, which is one of the most hard-working, ethical and selfless organizations out there trying to make this sorry little world a better place. If the spirit of giving moves you, take a moment to send some love their way. They’re doing a lot with very little, and they can use all the help they can get.
Stop being a hater. Increasingly, we as a society have come to reflect the hostility at work in the world at large. This is so even in such a virtual microcosm as Facebook, where “unfriending” those with whom you might disagree has become commonplace. How can we ever hope to curb the hatred and animosity that have spurred global terrorism over the past few decades if we can’t even forgive the human failings of those in our immediate circles?
Learn tolerance in the true sense of the word. There’s no need to legislate tolerance through hate crime legislation and other politically correct mechanisms of compliance. True tolerance stems from a basic respect for one’s fellow man or woman. And it should be taught to children from the time they can understand right from wrong.
Value your family. The family, such that it is, is already in great disrepair, torn apart by divorce, infidelity, overscheduling, overwork, materialism, and an absence of spirituality. Despite the billions we spend on childcare, toys, clothes, private lessons, etc., a concern for our children no longer seems to be a prime factor in how we live our lives. And now we are beginning to see the blowback from collapsing familial relationships. Indeed, more and more, I hear about young people refusing to talk to their parents, grandparents being denied access to their grandchildren, and older individuals left to molder away in nursing homes. Yet without the family, the true building block of our nation, there can be no freedom.
Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and comfort the lonely and broken-hearted. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Take part in local food drives. Take a meal to a needy family. “Adopt” an elderly person at a nursing home. Support the creation of local homeless shelters in your community. Urge your churches, synagogues and mosques to act as rotating thermal shelters for the homeless during the cold winter months. Jesus—the reason for the season, as they say—is quoted in the Book of Matthew as cautioning his followers, “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.” In other words, put your faith into action and help those in need.
Give peace a chance. The military industrial complex has a lot to gain financially so long as America continues to wage its wars at home and abroad, but you can be sure that the American people will lose everything unless we find some way to give peace a chance.
We’re all in the same boat together. It’s been a toxic year full of hateful rhetoric demonizing those with whom one might disagree politically, racially, religiously, culturally, economically, morally, etc. These differences won’t matter in the long run. At a certain level, we’re all the same. We’re all in the same boat together. Indeed, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, unless we do something to stop it the oppression and injustice of the police state now—whether it takes the form of shootings, surveillance, fines, asset forfeiture, prison terms, roadside searches, and so on—we will all suffer the same deadly fate eventually.
As Dickens reminds us, it’s never too late to make things right in the world and try to be better people and, most importantly of all, pay your blessings forward.
Whether you do it as the Grinch did by reaching out to people with whom you don’t see eye to eye and building bridges of friendship, or as Scrooge did, by repenting of his greed, selfishness and bah humbuggery and looking out for those in need, the point, my friends, is to do it now before it’s too late, not just at Christmastime, but always.