Overall the timing couldn't be better, since the time of year poor kids need underwear and their parents need groceries coincides perfectly with the season that wealthy kids need a reminder to be thankful for their iPads and bottomless allowance. And food and shelter and stuff.
So one Saturday a year, the University Park families line up at a large warehouse on the other side of town, to congratulate themselves on caring for the poor, earn volunteer merit badges, and give their kids a firsthand look at what happens when you're not responsible enough to be born into a trust fund. Oh, and they also pass out toys, clothes, and food to the poor families of South Dallas.
|"Ho-ho-ho, Merry Christmas! Excuse me while I leave this scary part of town before dark."|
They pass out skinny white Barbie dolls and bags of groceries to poor families, enjoy the high of being oh-so-full of Christmas spirit, and then hurry home to willfully-naive holiday parties, where simple hors d'oeuvres cater at $200 a plate and valet parking for guests costs more than the entire budget of this year's Help the Poor People event.
If rich people want to get their Christmas spirit highs by passing out cheap presents to poor people once a year, then I have no problem with poor people returning those gifts to Wal-Mart and spending the store credit on beer and cigarettes. They know what gets them through a day, and it's not more crap for their kids to lose at the homeless shelter. Or another bike to get stolen from outside their apartment door, or left behind when they're evicted for not having rent money again.
There's this temptation to label poor people as morally inferior, poor because they make bad choices or aren't as innately virtuous as their financially stable counterparts. But rich people and poor people pretty much live out the same vices and virtues, in parallel lives.
So what that it's a couple dollars on cigarettes versus a couple thousand on a spa vacation? Both are selfish indulgences that take the edge off a day. (Not that I'd be above either.)
What's a Platinum-level donor for the Charitablest Charity versus babysitting kids for a friend who can't afford a nanny? Both help out people in need.
The cushion of wealth can distort vices into easily-excused minor character flaws. If you're habitually late as a wealthy person, it's assumed you're tending to important matters, whether that's finishing up a call with the president or picking up your daily Starbucks. If you're habitually late as a poor person, it's assumed you're irresponsible and disorganized, disrespectful of others' time, whether your car broke down or you needed to pick up a friend on the way.
In the same way, wealth can turn a simple act of virtue into heroic sainthood. It's not the volunteers who put in the most hours or perform the least popular jobs who are honored at charity award banquets. It's the highest monetary donors.
For the wealthy, we polish up lust and adultery as having affairs, divorce, and alimony. But a poor person trying to recover from an irresponsible significant other gets labeled as easy, sleeping around, and somehow deserving of unpaid child support and hard times. Don't be fooled: we're all doing the same crap here. The luxury of money just lightens the consequences to years of expensive therapy instead of homelessness, hunger, and the cycle of poverty.
Anyway, don't let my rant get you down. Go do something nice for someone for Christmas. And maybe the week after too. And the week after that.