Sunday, July 17, 2011

Fighting Cynicism

The display was just inside the entrance of our local Safeway supermarket this morning: a circle of paper shopping bags filled with grocery staples and a sign inviting us to pick one up, pay $10 for it at the check stand and it would be donated to a local needy family.

I was immediately skeptical. We donate regularly to our local food bank. This corporate sponsored charity triggered suspicion: was the merchandise really worth $10? Were we supposed to pay $10 for it and the store -- or the corporation behind the store -- would take a gigantic charitable tax deduction? Would these even go out to needy families -- or would they be recirculated back to that circle for another sucker to come in and drop $10? I walked past the display thinking "What's the scam here anyway?"

I'll have to admit I've been feeling angry, disgusted and dismayed lately about corporate greed and cynicism, about the Koch brothers' pollution of the political scene, about deficit solutions that propose taking from the middle class, poor and elderly while the fat cats will still get the tax deductions for their corporate jets and non-taxpaying, job-outsourcing corporations continue to suck in obscene profits and tax credits.

Lately, I've been going to the grocery store in a dark mood.  I go with a list of products produced by the  Koch industries and studiously boycott every product on the list. Voting with my checkbook feels somewhat meaningful even if my vote at the polls pales in comparison to corporate influence. This morning, I glanced at my Koch list irritably and then looked behind me.

Bob had picked up one of the paper bags and was putting it in the basket. I scowled. We weren't going to be suckers for some corporate scam!

"The point is that this sack of food will go to some needy family," Bob said. "We've been so blessed in life. How can we not give back? Even though you think it's just another corporate scam, what if this bag of groceries would make a real difference for someone struggling to feed his or her family?"

I thought about it -- and realized that he was right. And I reflected sadly about how my cynicism was beginning to block my altruism.  And I thought about about how our hope as citizens and as a nation lies in not losing our humanity and our compassion for each other.

The divisions, the inequities, and the rage at those who are different in any way from us are some of the most frightening aspects of life in the U.S. today. Right wing pundits take aim at unionized teachers, firefighters and police. The younger generations grumble about the greedy geezers who are supposedly living high on the hog with their Social Security riches and Medicare benefits. The less affluent are looking more critically at the lifestyles of the very rich.  The financial gap between the rich and the rest of us is widening. Both political parties seem more interested in playing partisan games than in the economic well-being and future of the nation.

But, at least until the next election, that is out of our hands. Or maybe it is forever out of our hands. The question is now what can we as individuals do to counteract the epidemic of selfishness, greed and lack of empathy sweeping the land?

Maybe we can step back from our own cynicism, our own partisan opinions, and find ways to care for each other again. Maybe we can stop focusing on what divides us from others and concentrate, instead, on what we share.  Maybe, setting aside fears of economic meltdowns, terrorism and political insanity, we can live with gratitude for today and for what we do have and reach out to help those less fortunate.

It's all a matter of taking that first step away from anger, suspicion and dire expectations -- and opting for empathy and good will. The only time we really have is the present. The only people we can really change? Ourselves. How we view those around us is our own decision. In these tumultuous times, we can make the choice to trust, to give, to love.

I took a deep breath. Then,  agreeing with Bob that we, indeed, have been blessed, I made extra space in our shopping cart for that paper bag.


  1. It's a problem over here too, Kathy, and my DH is one of the cynical ones who sees a scam on every corner. I'm more likely to be the sucker, though even I am hardening up a bit where big companies are concerned. I do think the inequalities and divisions seem to be be deeper in the USA, but of course yours is a bigger country in every way and so its inequalities will be bigger too. What to do? Just go on trying to do some good in our own way and never forget to be grateful for what we have.

  2. Aw, I am glad you caved. It is hard in these times to give with out fear of being taken. During each disaster, I still give to the Red Cross, even though I know some of the money will not make it to those in need. Still, a lot does. It is the old baby and the bath water scenario. We have to work with the tools we have and vote hoping to make things better. I also keep a list of my congress men and women by my computer and e-mail them regularly my concerns.
    Arkansas Patti

  3. I appreciate your post. What is bothersome, is that those who want to put themselves in charge of the rest of us, don't have our best interest at heart, but only their own power and privilege. I am so sick of both party heads threatening the elderly, disabled, and military service families with losing their life lines while insisting that the richest get richer. The $250,000 as being rich probably needs revision in this economy. For a family of 4 that isn't a lot of money. However, there are millionaires and billionaires, who wouldn't hurt one bit with a few percentages of higher taxes. This Administration is no better than the previous Administration regarding Bush's callous coment about being with the "haves and the have mores." Even while helping our neighbors and strangers, we still need to put the corrupted powerful in their place or they will continue to squander the monies WE put in the coffers. I think it is our duty to point out the bad apples, even if we happen to have one of the few good Congresspersons, so that they will hopefully pass on our sentiments to their Leadership.

  4. Interesting thoughtful post. We find that giving thru a church (B belongs but I don't) offers us a pretty good guarantee that the money/goods will be used for appropriate causes and people. Btw, how about posting that list of Koch Industries products. I'll join your boycott.

  5. Walking in Seattle yesterday, I passed a dozen people with cups out for contributions. I walked by, not wanting to be scammed.

    Still, I want to give where there is need.

    So my husband and I bought a picnic table and a hammock to share with our young neighbors. We bought a used freezer and quarter of a beef. Our neighbors bought a quarter beef also and store it in our freezer. I can be generous close to home.

  6. I like your post very much. It is hard to know which way to turn sometimes. On the one hand we don't want to be taken advantage of -- to have our better natures scammed -- I give most of my charity through the church -- however, there are some charities I have a lot of time for -- the Salvation Army, Help for Heroes, Children in Need, and the Royal Air Force Beneficent Fund top my list. I'm glad you bought the bag!

  7. Our Safeway had the same scam....errr, promotion and I didn't go for it. We have a local food bank and that's where I choose to send my money.

    I was the sight and hearing chair fior our local Lions Club. I was in charge of approving the applications for assistance to pay for eye exams and glasses. I had to constantly fight my cynical nature. While I hope that most of the people who are requesting help have no other way to get the services they need, I suspect that some of them are scamming. The worse ones are the people who call me and whine because the amount our club pays won't cover the entire cost of the frames they have chosen....and then they yell at me that they need more money. Proof that I am no Mother Teresa!