Sunday, December 05, 2010

Nonviolent gift-giving

Few who espouse and try to practice nonviolence are so Gandhian that we can feel entirely integrated and settled in our daily manifestation of our philosophical commitment to nonviolence. We try, we stumble, and sometimes we fail without even knowing it.

It's very hard to purchase using the best nonviolent standards. Even plastic bags are often made with animal fat. Imagine the irony of your vegan groceries carried home encased in that.

Out biking yesterday I was listening to Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know? and he interviewed the older fellow who runs Lehman's, a sort of Amish-culture-type hardware in Ohio, where various communities still try to live in the old Anabaptist simplicity. The discussion ranged from butter churns (he presented Michael with one) to haysaws to old fashioned, non-plastic, non-electric children's toys. Indeed, the online catalog's toy section is sweet and inviting. The catalog has great sections on alternative lighting, non-electric tools and all the various permutations on living like the various Anabaptists who eschew technology to varying degrees and who, coincidentally, are so much easier on the Earth and on each other, living in a more nonviolent lifestyle by far than our mainstream American culture.

One key point that the Lehman's guest made to Michael Feldman was that most of what they sold would not change from year to year and that they also sold parts so that when something broke or bent in one of their products, the entire thing was not discarded into our trash stream, but instead repaired by a search for the part and the time taken to keep it fixed. They talked about buying a kitchen appliance that could be handed down through the generations and kept functional because the parts could still be ordered to keep it in good order. There is something beyond environmental about that; I enjoy tea from the same cup my father drank from each morning when I was a boy in the 1950s. That deep emotional connection must have some validity in attachment theory of raising healthy children and I'd suggest that the more we surround ourselves and our families with such transgenerational items of daily life the healthier our culture will become. We cannot have that so well in a disposable economy so attached to hyperconsumption instead of human values.

Of course I am writing this on a laptop that my grandfather never imagined, let alone possessed, and which is relatively ephemeral (a good reminder to back it all up!), so I do not make any of these observations in any judgmental fashion, just a note to self: think about this more during this silly season of shop-til-you-flop. I'm still pondering the best gift for the six-year-old in our peace house, the girl who has everything (and whose mother's eyes roll every time I, or anyone, gives this lovely child another toy). I already gave her an antique carved goat that my grandfather gave my grandmother, so I'll have to perhaps think of giving her an experience--a movie or play or other event. What a Gandhian challenge in our stressed out plastic culture, the gift for the six-year-old with everything.

The real basic values of nonviolence might show us the way through this season and on. While the rightwingers clamor and claim that Obama is not a US citizen, we might reflect on whether Jesus could produce his birth certificate (let alone his reborn papers). As we watch the Koreas turn to their respective nuclear Godfathers, we might rethink purchases of cheap Chinese consumer goods and instead try to direct more of our pre-tax income to savings, to defer federal taxes until our government evolves into a less militarized force in the world.

In short, it's all connected and we are all called to do our best. None of us are Jesus and none of us are Gandhi but we can show our good intentions in the smallest devotions of daily life.

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