The other day a man on the street gave a homeless person a dollar, and I smiled at him. “What can I say?” the man told me, puffing up his chest as he got into a new Mercedes. “I’m a generous guy this time of year.” It got me to thinking…people seem confused about generosity.
Rosalind Russell stars in the 1958 film “Auntie Mame” as a wealthy eccentric with a heart of gold. In the stock market crash of 1929 Mame loses it all—including her new job as a clerk at Macy’s. Demoralized and broke, she foregoes a warm cab ride home and opts instead to drop her very last dollar into a Salvation Army bucket.
In flusher times Mame might have handed the bell ringer a couple of Benjamins, but it would not have been a fraction as benevolent as giving away her last dollar. Generosity is not conveyed by tax breaks for charitable contributions or crowing about giving someone less fortunate a couple of dollars. True generosity requires a bit of personal sacrifice—and comes from a place where we actually care about people irrespective of social station, income, religion or race.
Maybe it’s just me, but I am not blanketed in warm fuzzies when I see gratuitous Christmastime TV ads touting the “generosity” of a company that donates a few pennies on the dollar to charity “in the spirit of giving.” It doesn’t strike me as particularly giving to donate money simply to earn a massive tax break when your workers don’t have affordable healthcare. #ScroogeMart
In a decidedly ungenerous move, and for reasons beyond my comprehension, a swath of the American public has decided to jump onboard the “restore Merry Christmas” crazy train, ignoring the fact that, quite simply, we have a proud multi-cultural history and not everyone believes in Jesus. Considering Christmas, the birthday of said Jesus, is the penultimate celebration of generosity, it seems disengenuous to cram one’s religious beliefs down people’s throats by insisting they get with the ‘Happy Birthday, Jesus’ program, then label them un-American when they won’t.
This year I decided to try something new—something perhaps…charitable. I ask, “Do you celebrate Christmas?” When people say yes, then I wish them a merry Christmas. When they say no, I tell them happy holidays. There is a brief pause as the person digests the question, then come the words, “Thank you for asking.” Boom.
There are so many ways to express generosity, from helping an elderly person across a busy street to honoring someone else’s culture. Among the same group that is leading the Merry Christmas Goddammit assault, there is the argument that if African American persons refer to one another with the N word, then why can’t the rest of us? (This proposition reared its head at a Christmas party, which seemed ironic somehow.)
We could go round and round debating the roots of systemic racism, which would be the right thing to do if we were really interested in learning anything, but that would demand logical consistency and factual accuracy. Instead, in the spirit of Christmas, I propose that persons who are not African American simply accept that persons who are African American really don’t like it when persons who are not African American use the N word. Can’t that be enough?
To suggest white people should be allowed to call African American people by the N word because African American people use the word is to insist upon calling Richard ‘Dick’ when he has specifically asked to be called the former. It doesn’t matter whether Richard’s family calls him Dick, or what his race is. Unless you are in Richard’s family, and assuming you have half a brain, you will call him Richard. Otherwise you are the real dick.
Was that ungenerous? My bad. (Your appreciation, or acceptance of my sense of humor and language is quite generous.)
This holiday season I want to thank you—for sharing your stories with me, letting me know what you thought of a blog, laughing with me, crying and raging against the machine with me.
Here’s to all of us, honoring whatever tradition, belief or non-belief we subscribe to by being tolerant, kind, compassionate…and you know. Generous.
Happy holidays. Loves ya,