I spoke to the boys in assembly last week. The text of my holiday themed address appears below…
Thanks for reading,
“I don’t know about you and your family, but for us, December is an extremely busy time of year. In addition to the many social functions to attend, the annual ordeal of purchasing gifts weighs heavy on many. I did manage to pick up a few things at this year’s Festive Marketplace, but I must shamefully admit that I haven’t really done any serious holiday shopping yet, and the longer I leave it, the more crowded malls and stores will become.
I came across a website the other day that provided some stats on spending and purchases for last year’s holiday Season, and predictions are that even more money will be spent by consumers this year in 2016. Here are some interesting figures about last year’s holiday expenditures:
- UPS estimated that it shipped over 630 million packages during the festive season.
- The average person spent over US$800 last year on holiday related purchases.
- Close to 50 per cent of retail sales were done online.
- This one is mind-boggling: U.S. holiday retail sales surpassed the entire GDP of 181 countries last year.
- And finally, 176 billion candy canes are made each year. That’s enough for more than five for each resident in the U.S.
Here’s the link to the interesting article.
Those are some big numbers that represent a lot of retail transactions. It’s this idea of “transaction” that I’d like offer a few thoughts on today. Typically, transactions are identified through the exchange of goods and services for funds. We go into a store, hand over some money and walk out with a pair socks, a tie or a book. (You can tell how creative my holiday gifts are.) In many faith traditions, people give gifts to loved ones and the expectation is to get gifts in return. Unlike this self-proclaimed Scrooge, there are some that really get into this idea and one might describe those who do as having a transactional mindset.
Transactional mindsets don’t only appear during the holiday season. They can be seen year round and take many different forms. Indeed, our very societal structure is, in many ways, dependent on transactions. For example, as working adults, we give our expertise and our hard work, and expect to get compensated for all that we give. The relationship between an employee and his or her employer is transactional. Likewise, here at UCC, there is, to a degree, a transactional relationship between the school and its students. As students, you give of your time and your effort, and you expect to get a certain level of education in return, one that will prepare you for success beyond your high school years.
Most transactions that occur in our society, like those between a sales clerk and a customer, between an employee and employer, or between a school and a student, work well for two reasons: First, because both parties involved give something in exchange, and second because they share similar expectations about what each is receiving for what they have given.
As you may expect, transactions break down and fail when expectations between the two involved parties are not the same, or when one party neglects to give as much as he should. Let’s return to our holiday setting and look at a very timely example of this. (My apologies for the quality of the clip. It was the best I could find.)
You don’t need a degree in international relations to see what’s gone wrong in this transaction. In short, the Grinch is taking without giving. And while he thinks that taking away everything that the Whos have prepared for their holiday will satiate his need for revenge and make him feel fulfilled, we know that it doesn’t. Indeed, it’s only through the act of giving – and I would argue that for the Grinch it goes beyond the act of giving back what he has taken – it’s only through the act of giving a piece of himself, that the Grinch achieves peace with those Whos in Whoville, and more importantly achieves peace within himself. Have a look at this next clip.
In this memorable scene, the Grinch moves beyond the transactional to the transformational, as his compassion grows and his whole mindset shifts from a focus on himself to being other-minded. As most of you likely know, in the scenes that follow this clip, the Grinch realizes he’s had it wrong through all those lonely years he’s spent on the mountain-top by himself, and comes to the realization that to truly live, one must learn to respect others, appreciate their differences and develop meaningful relationships with them.
In addition to the story of Grinch and other traditional TV specials, I must admit that I love the commercials produced during this time of year, as advertisers try to tap into seasonal compassion and sentiments of goodwill through the holiday spirit. One of my favourite commercials I’ve seen this year is based on a simple premise: an exchange of gifts between two men. Here’s today’s final clip, aptly called “A Cup of Tea.”
On one level, this Amazon ad is simply about a transaction, but I think you’ll agree that it transcends the transactional, touching the transformational, as these two friends, men of different faiths, show respect and appreciation for one another, in finding a common bond through their vulnerability and humanity.
Given that this is the last full assembly before the break, I’d like to wish all of you the best throughout the last days of the term. To the Senior Division boys in particular, good luck on your December exams. Whatever you may do throughout the remainder of this year, I’d encourage you to think beyond yourself and look past the notion of “getting” and move toward appreciating others and “giving” of yourself, so that you might enrich the lives of those with whom you come into contact, both here at the school and beyond.
In the spirit of Dr. Seuss, I’ll conclude with a final rhyme:
During this holiday time, either through work or through play,
Let us aspire to be better each day.
And, akin to the Grinch, whose heart grew in size,
May kindness and charity be the sought-after prize.
Thanks for listening.”