Sharon Astyk writes on Casaubon’s book about “Toys R Not Us”
Abbie commented on the post,
This post really speaks to me. Both my mom and my mother-in-law can go overboard with presents, and I fear that next Christmas will be way overindulgent for our baby. I’ve spoken to each of them about guidelines for what will be appropriate, and spent time reminiscing with my brothers and my husband’s siblings about our favorite toys: blocks, sticks, cardboard boxes, dolls… and of course our favorite things to play with were our pets. So I think (hope) that the moms will understand and give presents that reflect our simple values. I don’t want an overwhelming sea of plastic for each birthday and holiday!
My reply to Abbie, as usual, is bigger than a simple comment should be. So here is my reply to Abbie:
The honor of the recipient of a gift is to use that gift in a manner that the giver doesn’t regret the giving. (I read that in a science fiction novel.)
That said, I think the issue of respect must be addressed. You might approach your mother and aunts, and state you are concerned there is a problem coming up for the holidays. Explain that you and your house have chosen to address meaningless values of things, vs. values of spirit and self esteem. Explain that you see much danger in commercial gift giving, that you are focusing on enriching the inner life, and reducing the distractions of clutter and overabundance.
Explain you would prefer gifts of a recorder and song book, to a popular CD or Guitar Hero add-on. Song books and instrument books guide one to the beauty of culture, history, and art. They take time to master, and have no arbitrary “end of game”. The perseverance of learning to play well or sing well is a justly earned discipline, and builds character – instead of merely passing time, admiring an arbitrarily assigned idol.
Don’t get me wrong, there is much to learn from music, whether classical (endurance?!), country, rock, rap, etc. Some lessons should not be learned, but knowing that such a message is false and to be avoided is a valuable lesson, too. Also books, drama, movies, even TV. But electronic versions tend to represent more commercial interest than personal growth. And I am convinced that it is the short, bright intrusions of advertisements into TV programs that largely explains the growth in ADD and ADHD diagnoses – ads disrupt and distract from story telling, which destroys concentration and persistence over the seven (7) minutes between commercials. Some computer games return to the epic story format, and engage for protracted periods of concentration, effort, and persistence. Yet there is little, oftentimes, to learn about people or life from computer games. There are exceptions, yet they require the player to be willing to transfer game knowledge to life skills, something computer users tend to disassociate very early on.
Accept that you can and should not impose your own beliefs on others. But watch closely what they do. Gifting is *always* about respect and responsibility. Pay attention to what your gifting, and the gifts you receive, say about each relationship.
Giving an unwanted gift should be a disappointment to the giver. Within reason the recipient should acknowledge the gift – that is being “polite”. Giving a child a gift in despite of a parent’s request is a clear and aggressive act of disrespect. Disrespect through inappropriate gifts might be a slander to the parent’s parenting skills, their lack of adequate assets to parent, or it might be a simple bullying of the parents (perhaps a continuation of the poor parenting skills the now-parent survived as a child.)
A well-chosen gift is an endeavor of love, not a trip to the “most popular” aisle of a store. Using the above example of a recorder – a first recorder should be a gift. It should be chose with the finger agility and reading ability of the recipient. A certain amount of knowledge is needed to find an instrument suitable for a beginner – not just the “beginner” model the local store happens to carry. It should be easy enough for a beginner to play, and play adequately in the ranges a beginner will manage first. Like ponies, horses, bicycles, books, etc., buying a professional, Olympic competition model is great – when the craftsman that will be using the tool chooses one that fits his or her needs. For a beginner, a hammer is indistinguishable from a concert-grade recorder, a sawhorse from a world champion race horse, jumper, or other performance horse. Buy what the beginner needs. For later acquisitions, enable the craftsman to acquire the tools needed for the next level of growth, next usage. Overbuying kills dreams, because the beginner doesn’t get the tools to begin, and cannot acquire the skills to advance to the advanced tools.
If you have someone bent on a mega-huge purchase – ask for a good, solid, used upright piano, maybe a couple of beginner books. And a visit from a good piano tuner to condition and tune the piece.
Actually, I think the piano is an insidious family endeavor. Because the practice advances from “hit a key” to “hit the right key”, everyone in ear-shot learns about correct timing, correct notes, phrasing, etc. Plus, old tunes get dusted off.
Where electronic games create a world of fantasy, music and music lessons return awareness of earlier cultural values.
I suppose threatening Mom with picking a third-rate nursing home, when the time comes, next week, would be a bit of over-reaction. Depending on Mom, of course.