Jonathan was sixteen years old when we moved to Westport in 1984. He was glad to leave the high school he’d been attending, but not at all sure about the new one.
Soon after he started classes at Staples I asked what he thought. I’ll never forget his answer. He said, “It’s a great school, there are so many things I can take — art and drama classes, photography. But I’m glad I didn’t grow up in Westport.”
That sounded like a contradiction. “Why not?” I asked.
“Kids here have everything, but they don’t appreciate anything,” he said.
Jonathan has always had a way of getting right to the heart of the matter. He did it that day. A sincere sense of appreciation is the central religious or spiritual value. Remove it and you’ve taken out the heart, the soul. Every responsible parent in is afraid of spoiling their child. Overindulgence can do irreparable harm to the child’s character, to their core person.
We’re aware of this danger as we enter the holiday season. How do you get from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day without contributing to the greed that kills appreciation?
There are lots of other tricky or difficult things about this season. There are religious issues having to do with the celebration of Christmas — with towns spending money to put trees, decorations and even crèches on town property. They shouldn’t.
There are issues for interfaith families — how to combine the celebration of Hunakkah and Christmas. Many couples have told me that some relatives won’t come into their home if they have a Christmas tree, for example. Tricky. And, speaking of tricky, how should we spell Hunakkah? Chanukkah? Chanakah? At least we can smile at that one!
At the heart of it all, though, is the appreciation issue. It’s one of the values we hold dear, as opposed to the greed and materialism we fear will harm our children. So, how many gifts should we give to our children, or to one another for that matter?
Greed, covetousness and envy are deadly sins — deadly because something in the soul can die from them. Erich Fromm warned: “Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.”