The year-end festive mood is in full swing once again – Christmas baubles and giant structures deck shopping malls while Christmas songs loop mercilessly. The traditional Santa Claus lighting theme along Orchard Road is a welcoming sight after last year’s rather unorthodox theme and mascots (read: Disney). Thank you, Orchard Road Business Association.
The two words that frightens this writer during Christmas are “gift exchange”, but nothing scares him more than seasonal generosity and its insincerity. As dust-covered festive decorations are pulled from storage rooms, seasonal generosity emerges from the depths of cold, cynical hearts.
Christmas is seemingly the time of the year when acts of generosity are at its highest – purchasing random knickknacks, indulging in gift-giving, splurging on festive meals or emptying pockets of loose change at the Salvation Army Red Kettle. The Salvation Army Red Kettle and its bell-ringing volunteers are common sights during the festive season, setting up shop outside virtually every Singapore shopping mall.
Before one is quick on the draw to criticise non-profit organisations for taking advantage of seasonal generosity, consider this: it might be one last desperate attempt to canvass for donations to benefit the needy. A Straits Times article in May reported that overall donation rates dipped from 91 per cent in 2008 to 79 per cent in 2018 across Singapore.
The holiday spirit is powerful but come first of January, that goodwill gets packed away with the decorations. If decency and kindness govern actions for one month of the year, why not 11 more months?
Money, time and Gratitude
Dollars and cents are not the only means to quantify generosity. Apart from money, there are more that can be given – time and gratitude. While most ascertain money to be most important amongst the three, time and gratitude are two other currencies that can be given at almost no cost to one.
The lack of time is the most common excuse given in our society, we get caught in our own personal lives and activities. Consider how much precious time is wasted when vigorously tapping away at Pokémon gym fights or bingeing on the hottest Netflix series. The fact is everyone lives on the same 24 hours, sacrificing 20 minutes to talk to our families or a friend in need certainly won’t save lives but it makes them feel better and remembered.
Gestures of gratitude and appreciation can go a long way. A simple “thank you” expressed to the hawker centre cleaner makes them feel dignified as they go about their chores. That colleague who covered two weeks’ worth of extra work while you are vacationing in the Alps definitely deserves more than a re-energised smile when you’re back.
What is the cause of seasonal generosity then? Perhaps, it could be examined from the cause of a lack of generosity in society?
In July, a Straits Times panel discussion revealed issues on privilege, lack of generosity and whether we are victims of our meritocratic system. While meritocracy served the early generations well during Singapore’s formative years, it might have built the belief in some people that their comforts and luxuries in life are purely based on merit and hard work.
People hold on to this mentality because they believe in fairness – “these hapless folks are in this position because they did not put in hard work” – which sadly, breeds ungraciousness. What these people fail to understand is some inequalities are so entrenched within the lives of the less fortunate that they cannot escape.
Giving money is not the be-all and end-all to solving the world’s problems – spending time to understand a situation and actively participating in change is. Extend the spirit of giving even after the New Year.
This story first appeared in the December/January ’20 issue of Men’s Folio.