Friday, December 23, 2011

The Embarrassment of Low-Dose Sentimentality

I sometimes think people are embarrassed by their emotions, by what some would call their "sentimentality." I would argue that's true for some of us who tend to view the "Christmas mush" as a profit-driven, media-induced effort to persuade us that we should listen to our "consciences" and spend accordingly...our "consciences" tell us we must buy to express our love. Because we are skeptical of the motives behind the "Christmas mush," we are loath to buy into—and certainly loath to express—the emotions that the media present to us as evidence of the Christmas spirit.

But I think if the skeptics among us were to be completely honest with ourselves, we would not work so hard to present ourselves as unwilling to buy into the Christmas spirit.

Despite my lack of belief in the biblical basis for Christmas, I have no particular reason to find anything offensive about Christmas. While I think Christmas has been co-opted by capitalists to a very great extent, I find the themes surrounding the Christmas holidays (and many other religious holidays, for that matter) to be good and valuable and attractive. Goodwill toward men. Peace on earth. Sharing. Helping those less fortunate. Love of family and friends. Being charitable in thought and deed. Those are good things. (Noticeably lacking, unfortunately, is goodwill toward the Earth, but that's another post.)

But back to my opening comment: if you're skeptical about the motives of those around you, you tend not to want to reveal your own...especially the ones that are REAL inside you but that appear, at least to you, PHONY in others. Part of it is that you're questioning your own skepticism, I think, and part of it is your concern about your image among those who share what you may think is your intellectual superiority. You don't want to look like a patsy for the proletariat, as it were.

I will readily admit that I remain highly suspicious of the motives behind a lot of the "spirit of the season." Earlier and earlier Christmas sales, earlier and earlier Christmas tree availability (another issue for another post), bigger and bigger splashes by the media about their toy drives and help for the homeless and so forth. But I have to acknowledge that the results of toy drives and efforts to help the homeless are, or can be, wonderful. The fact that the motives behind them may not be "pure" in the way I'd like them to be does not change the results. While the results may not always be as good as I'd hope, they're probably better than the outcome of inaction.

Granted, some believe, as I once did, people are not naturally caring, empathic beings. But whether people come by those attributes naturally or not, I believe many people and perhaps most people do possess them. They want the world to be a better place. They want to help their fellow humans. They don't want to allow themselves to be the beasts we all can become. And I think most people, even those who present the face and the attitude of a hard-ass, believe the same thing.

In my admittedly schizophrenic assessments of people, I think the hard-asses are just willing to allow themselves to exhibit sentimentality in extremely low does, if at all, and that's an embarrassment in and of itself. I've been embarrassed across the board in that regard.

As of this moment, though, I am allowing myself to revel in the spirit of the season. I just wish I'd revel in it year-round. I wish we all would revel in it year-round.

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