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Family Holiday Letter Encourages Fresh Thinking

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Dear Family,

Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah to everyone in New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, the Oneida and Navajo Nations, and the emirate of Qatar. Please forgive me for sharing this holiday letter with the readers of my Pencil Warrior column. Hopefully others will find value in what I have to say.

While we Wheelocks, Gonzaleses, Ninhams, Fuenteses, and Bitsuis don't normally consider ourselves wealthy, our extended family is fortunate in that we have been able to carry on the tradition of holiday gift-giving. I don't intend being the Grinch however perhaps we should pause amongst the hysteria to examine our buying habits against the backdrop of modern realities.

Those gnawing suspicions you've surely felt about Christmas getting harder to fund are not your imagination. From my investigations for this column the past two years I can assure you that although American workers are producing more, we are earning less. In fact, after your wages are adjusted for inflation, they are less now than they were at the beginning of the so-called economic "recovery" in 2001. We're all aware health care costs are going through the roof, yet at the same time fewer and fewer jobs offer health packages. The comfortable retirement Grandma and Grandpa Wheelock enjoyed looks more and more like an unrepeatable memory.

It is ironic that those increasingly under financial stress are counted upon to bear the burden of propping up our national economy. If we little people don't get out there and buy enough stuff during the holiday "shopping season," the whole shebang goes into tilt. Corporate chief executives officers, whose pay on average rose by ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY-SIX PERCENT between 1992 and 2005, know this better than anyone. Thus the din of holiday advertising begins earlier with each passing year.

Though we have more urgent reason to save money than ever before, everyone from the president on down urges us to shop till we drop. My observation is that the trend is toward energy-consuming gadgets that are hastily-made (even the expensive ones) by exploited workers, increasingly far from American shores. From experience I know these devices are often user-hostile, subject to early failure, and non-repairable, which adds to our national heap of wasted resources. Frequently only the most frivolous of purposes is served by these "labor saving tools" which in reality rob us of self-reliance and even our health. Factor in the fleeting sense of satisfaction one gets from receiving such white elephants, and it's hard to rationalize buying them. Particularly on credit!

This year I have somewhat inadvertently formed an alliance with a local artisan here in Socorro. Olaf makes imaginative, useful, and beautiful house wares at his woodshop about a mile from where we live, at a very reasonable price. I initially bought one piece as a gift and then, in the midst of writing this story, realized there was no reason Olaf's work shouldn't grace a few more of our homes!

Unfortunately the saying "we vote with our dollars" - which means millionaires, and especially billionaires, rule - is true today. That doesn't mean that this year, we can't begin to free ourselves from the clutches of non-sustainability and debt even while we help bring into being the kind of world in which we'd like to live. Buying locally-made gifts encourages our neighbors to be self-reliant and keeps our dollars circulating within our community. Let's give the kids in our family a head start on their future with gifts that support values useful for living on Earth, that incite them to get outdoors, exercise, learn, create, and share. The best form of energy for toys is kid power, and we'll be doing their world a favor by introducing them to the concept of conservation.

When we were kids in the 1950s and 1960s life was good in America. Our parents didn't realize their patterns of behavior would one day result in scarcity and widespread pollution, or that the business world was consolidating power in ways that would transform not only the marketplace but the entire world, not always for the better. Life seemed simpler then, but in hindsight we were drifting toward the limits of the natural world. My challenge to you, dear family, in the New Year is one of personal responsibility for the world our young ones will inherit.
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Dave Wheelock is a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and a professional university rugby coach in Socorro, New Mexico. He holds a history degree from the University of New Mexico. His Pencil Warrior column appears in the Socorro Mountain Mail (more...)

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