Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas My Dear Son

Dear Son, this Christmas I am giving you the gift of knowledge about the world, the real world. To start with, you need to know that Santa Claus – or Father Christmas, or Sinterklaas – does not exist. All those presents that you received from “Santa” were actually from me, your dad and your grandparents who badly made up Santa’s signature.

The world we are living is a cruel world, son. You probably remember the little children singing on the traffic lights and the old man collecting old newspapers and used bottles from your grandparents’ house in Jakarta. They are homeless. Well, maybe they do live in a “house” made of cardboards, but their “homes” are going to be evicted soon so that Jakarta can have more and more glamorous shopping mall. Besides homeless, they might not be able to afford food every day.

On television this week you might have seen grim picture and number of people died of flash flood, of war or protesters who want a better world killed by their own armed forces. You might remember my angry rant about someone called Murdoch – Rupert and James – who unethically obtained people’s private information and sell them for their own profit. You might remember the people camping in front of Manchester Town Hall occupying public space in protest of the current economic system that is power by greed. And I hope you remember how angry I was that the poor and the hardworking middle class have to pay for the mess some rich bankers created.

The world is unfair and unjust, my son. Now that you are almost an adult, I think you should know this.

With this knowledge as a Christmas gift, let me give you a good advice. If you want to be rich and successful, forget your dream about being a quantum physicist or scientist. Do not even consider working as a journalist or a social worker. Scientific exploration will not earn you any house and social worker salary will not afford you any Ferrari.

Be a banker or stock market trader! There, you will be rich rich and rich. If you can successfully enter the banking business and become a big boss, the tax payers will pay you ten times than what you actually worth. When you gamble other people’s money and lost, you need not to worry because banks are too big of a national institution to be let bankrupt. The tax payers will have to rescue your bank and you will still earn six figures bonus. When the hardworking civil servants are struggling to get their Christmas dinner on the table, you can buy proper champagne, caviar and tens of turkeys. You can even buy your children the latest sport car each as a Christmas present.

When you are a rich banker, you can watch television and laughed at the people occupying Wall Street, London, Manchester and all protesters all over the world. Even when governments around the world are reviewing legislations about bankers’ bonuses, if you are a rich banker, you can always hire the best lawyer and take a legal action against the cap of your bonus – as bankers in Europe are starting to do now.

When you are a rich investor, you can burn your copy of Das Kapital and buy the whole rain forest in Borneo and Sumatra to plant palm oils – this is the new gold rush, son!

As each generation grows to become better than their predecessor, you should be much better than me. Your old mother was a fool to follow her dream of becoming an independent journalist covering the untold stories of the poor in the world. Look where I ended up today, struggling to pay the bills like the rest of the middle class and still having to pay for all the bankers’ mistakes. Forget my na├»ve lectures about buying only Fair Trade goods and making the lives of others better. These were my Santa Claus, my fairy tales that I believed for too long. Remember that Santa Claus does not exist, and that Mother Teresa is a fool.

* * *

Writing these facts made me cry, my dearest lad. I cried for the hungry children in the world, and I cried for the dying fairy tales. I had to stop writing and took a walk. In the little park near our home, I saw the old woman who feeds the birds every day – just like the woman in Mary Poppins. I chatted with her and she pointed a poor bird whose beak is so weak that it could barely eat if she did not feed it by hand. I said goodbye to her and walk on.

Amid the busy Christmas shopping on Market Street, a few homeless people were selling the Christmas edition of Big Issue. You know this magazine, don’t you son? It is the weekly entertainment and current affairs magazine sold on the street by homeless people. The official Big Issue vendors earn 50% of the price of the magazine. For many, this is the only job they can get. Selling Big Issues does not give them housing though, if you walk the street at night, you will see most of the vendors sleeping on doorsteps of offices or shops.

You see son, I initially bought you a box of chocolates as an early Christmas treat. I am sorry that you never received this. As I walked around town, saying “No” to a Big Issue seller, I could not help but thinking about him. I turned around and offered him some chocolates. You have to see the surprised on his face. His smile wiped the tears in my eyes, son. So this is what happened to your box of chocolates. I ended up walking around town offering chocolates to all Big Issue vendors that I saw. Now it’s all gone.

My dearest son, I hope you forgive me for changing my mind again. I want you to ignore the first part of my letter to you. No son, I do not want you to forget your dream of becoming a quantum physicist. And no, Mother Teresa is not a fool.

Yes there are greedy bankers who do not care about the hungry children begging on Jakarta’s busy traffic lights. Yes there are evil politicians who took away social funding for the poor. And yes the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. High Pay Commission in the UK lat month shows that executive pay has risen sharply – the pay of the head of Barclays is up nearly 5,000% in 30 years – while average wages have increased just threefold. Today, 10% of the richest are 100 times better off than the poorest.

My dearest son, it is a sad moment when we realised that Santa Claus does not exist and most miracles we see in movies are just fictions. But my darling, kindness and magic do exist. Miracles are what we create and magic came from our heart. The smile on the homeless person eating your chocolates was my magical moment today. We really can create miracles with one simple kindness every day.

Remember the story of the greedy and selfish Ebenezer Scrooge? One Christmas Day after seeing the ghosts, his eyes were opened and he brought gifts to his underpaid clerk Bob Cratchit and his family. The most touching of this story is that the Cratchits gave Scrooge even a bigger present: their love and forgiveness.

There is another Christmas Carol story to celebrate. As the music industry in Britain are counting their sales for Christmas number one single 2011, one song by a bunch of amateurs is most likely to be the winner. The song, “Wherever You Are”, was written based on letters between soldiers in war zones and their loved ones. Competing with famous singers like Michael Buble and X-Factor singers, the humble Military Wives choir stood almost no chance. Still, a few days before Christmas, their single is the most likely to be number one. Proceeds from the sale will go to two armed forces charity – the Royal British Legion, and the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen Families Association (SSAFA).

The best part of this story is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer – the Scrooge of the UK who closed down free libraries and hospitals – announced yesterday that all VAT (tax) from sales of this single will be returned to the armed forces charity.

My son, if the Scrooges of this world can show just one little act of kindness for Christmas, I think others can and should do too. We will not change the world alone, son, but if everyone do one little act of kindness everyday, this old world might still have a chance. If the 10% richest people on Earth start sharing, oh what a wonderful world this would be!

So don’t be Scrooge. Continue your dream of becoming a scientist and lead humankind into finding the origin of our universe. I hope that during your search for Higgs boson – the God particle – you continue to search inside your heart. Mother Teressa was no scientist, but she found this paradox, “That if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

I know that from time to time we feel like giving up in humanity – we saw no hope for Libyan people to get true democracy, we see no hope for children in refugee camps in Somalia, while we see good food being thrown to the bin by our friends and colleagues in this so called “first world”. When you feel like how I felt earlier and wanting to give up, take a walk to the street and know that you can bring a smile into others’ faces. And, “Know what's weird? Day by day, nothing seems to change, but pretty soon...everything's different,” said Calvin to Hobbes.

I hope that in your darkest hours, you remember what Peter Benenson, founder of Amnesty International said, “Better light a candle than curse the darkness.”

Merry Christmas, my son! Let’s light a candle this Christmas Day. A candle of hope and love that will shine the light to our family and to all humankind on Earth.

No comments: