December 5th, 2013

planet

angel trees & conflicts

I've always felt a little awkward about angel trees - you know, where you pick up a christmas list for a less fortunate kid and provide the gifts his family can't.

I used to cringe at seeing items like MP3 players, video game consoles, or personal TVs on the lists, stuff that I didn't even have as a kid. Looking back, I was kinda just being judgy of the poor in that regard. Maybe I never had a nintendo but that didn't mean it wouldn't have been on my christmas list, probably multiple times.

Then I read "Toxic Charity and it brought up some issues I hadn't thought about... the author of that book really discourages angel trees. The whole premise of the book is that things we do to "be good" are actually really poorly thought out, and may even be hurting the poor. He says christmas toy drives do a number of bad things:

1) Teach kids that the cool presents come from "the outside". rich people, who they'll never be. it feeds materialism too... you can't be happy with what you have within your own means.

2) Take away one of parenting's greatest joys: providing happiness for your own children. the parents can't compete with the gifts that come in from the generous toy drive participants, so why bring home anything? they're out of it, they failed.

3) The practice teaches middle-class kids that there's a separate segment of the population we just have to blindly provide for, but never talk to. "Poor people" couldn't possibly be in your school, or right next door. Generosity can't be shown by helping a friend in need. No, it has to be in an anonymous bin.

The book encouraged churches to set up thrift store type operations to provide cheaper toys to parents who couldn't afford them, or subsidize parents in buying their kids gifts. Either way, work with the family, don't just send materials down upon them.

I feel like an asshole passing up the angel tree at work, especially since we do want to teach josie to be generous. She brings cans of food to her preschool for their church food pantry, that's it so far. I support plenty of other charities, in fact I'm darn close to my percentage-of-income goal these days, which helps me feel okay about walking past them. But I still think about playing along just to be nice.