Remember Kony 2012?
Since my husband is Ugandan, I took a special interest and contacted some of my Ugandan friends to see what they thought. I remember being a little surprised at what I discovered: Anger and annoyance at “Whites” feeling like they can come in and “save Africa” with a few posters and t-shirts, suspicion about where the money was really going, and was it sustainable, and general scoffing at the misinformation about Kony, who had not actually set foot in Uganda in years, and whose activities were decidedly not the priority of mainstream Ugandans.
My travels and conversations in Uganda have definitely influenced the way I view giving today. When it comes to global giving– are our gifts actually doing more harm than good? Are we really researching where our money goes and how it is used? Is our giving perpetuating stereotypes rather than providing accurate and productive information? (A good place to start might be A White Man’s Burden, as well as these articles at the Atlantic and NYT about Kony 2012). I am not at all perfect with this, but these are good questions to think about.
But what about personal giving? As the holidays approach every year, I mentally and physically brace myself for the onslaught of signs, sales, flyers, deals and other commercial media all designed to get me to buy as much as possible and feel guilty if I don’t–all for the innocent premise of gift giving.
If I really loved my husband, I would get him an alarm clock that runs away if he tries to snooze in, or an iPad mini (“The Perfect Gift”) to accompany his regular-sized iPad. If I really loved my sister, I would buy her a flock of ducks or maybe a goat. And if I really loved my daughter, I would give her THIS (A 40% off “Top Deal” at Amazon!)– plus boatloads of Caldecott Award books, and really expensive sustainable green toys.
After making my Christmas shopping list I attempted to search online for some ideas. After about 20 minutes my brain felt like mush from an overload of options and exclamation points.
Don’t get me wrong, giving can be very gratifying, and, when done right, can really do some good. But what is giving supposed to be about anyway? I’m not sure there is one answer to this, but I’d like to think it has something to do with communication. Does our giving communicate love, understanding, thoughtfulness? Does it communicate something personal, something meaningful? What does it communicate the opposite?
Because that’s the thing. Because what we give is viewed as an extension of ourselves, there is so much emotion involved with it–it’s how advertiser’s suck us in. There’s really nothing wrong with buying the next iPad, clock or oversized stuffed giraffe–but there may be something wrong depending on the way we feel about it– do we feel manipulated, guilty, impulsive and/or completely overwhelmed? I know there have been many holidays where, after hurriedly wrapping all my presents Christmas Eve, and then hurriedly tearing open presents the next morning, I feel like I have somehow missed the actual point of it all–and that all this gift giving really has somehow harmed more than helped. I wonder if any of you feel the same.
This month at Connect Shore, we will be exploring what gifts and giving mean to us–during the holidays and beyond. Is it even possible to avoid feeling stressed and overwhelmed by our gift lists? How can we make giving more gratifying?? We’ll be talking about our own family gift giving traditions, and some of the ways we would like to be more thoughtful about giving this year. We’ll even include some gift giving ideas ourselves As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.