’tis the season to cringe

Charity of the condescending, middle-class back-patting variety makes me cringe.

It’s that time of the year again. Well, in fairness, shops have had Christmas decorations out for months now. The president did his last stand-up routine in parliament for the year and schools are mere weeks away from calling it quits for 2015.

We received a letter, or rather a written demand, to fill a shoebox with items and wrap it in Christmas paper. We couldn’t seal it, it still had to open. We received “adult male” and a list of items to place inside for his Christmas box. Charity makes me cringe. I am not talking about real efforts to try improve the lives of people who have nothing, I am talking about the middle-class back-patting variety.

It is condescending. Condescending to the recipient, who no-doubt is obliged to clap his hands and act grateful, and condescending to those of us roped into taking part. After all, there is a register with a big red pen, and who would want to be christened “bad people” who do not “give to the needy”? I would never bother trying to explain how I see this kind of charity to the thoughtless hoards feeling good about themselves in funky little coffee shops.

Let’s unpack the Santa shoebox. (Remember, we were told exactly what to buy for our “adult male”.) A packet of biscuits with no nuts, a bag of marshmallows, toothpaste, toothbrush, facecloth, comb, bar of soap, a can of deodorant and a pack of playing cards. Yes, you read that correctly. The homeless adult male we were assigned to will be handed a box wrapped in Christmas paper with everything he needs to make himself smell better and instead of worrying that he has no home, he can play a game of poker. Maybe they are encouraging gambling?

What about a fancy shirt that costs R200? Or a nice pear of shoes or hat? Doesn’t he want to be like us and receive things that are nice? Why should he be given a can of deodorant that will be finished by January 10 when wealthier people can get impractical and useless things that make them smile?

A young man helps me with things around the house. Painting, garden work, building – those kinds of things. I hadn’t seen him for four years as he left to go work on a farm. One day he returned with nothing. All his clothes and belongings were stolen and he literally had nothing. There we go! An adult male who qualifies for a Santa shoebox!

This same man spoke to me on Saturday about my column in The Citizen. I have never told him what I do. Out of his own, this poor man read The Citizen and was discussing the politics and international relations I wrote about last week. Go figure, middle-class shoebox crowd, an adult male with almost nothing who is worldly, knows about the Paris attacks and who has dreams and aspirations beyond a facecloth.

Charity means nothing as long as the condescending back-patting crowd do not appreciate fellow human beings for what they are. People, just like us, who – due to the hard knocks of life – find themselves in very difficult situations. Let’s quit the toothpaste and try add value to their lives.


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