I understand why people like me are perceived as cold and insensitive for having strong moral fortitude. It is not always easy for me. However, it is, I think, the burden of becoming Human—of seeing something which others choose to ignore because it is less difficult to live a dictated life than a consciously chosen one.
Birthdays are an obviously ubiquitous ritual most everyone accepts (or even demands) conformity to, but I rarely meet people over 30 who authentically look forward to birthdays and growing older.
We complain about the stress of gift-giving (for birthdays, weddings, Christmas, bar-mitzvahs, etc.) while at the same time we are told holidays are joyful, merry, and happy. I know I am not alone in saying it is often difficult—maddening—to find a gift for your parents, in-laws, or spouse. There is fear of judgment, criticism, or suspicion of false platitudes. Will they really love the gift? Is it the right size? The right brand? Are they going to think you are cheap? If you have not spent “enough”, will they worry you are in financial trouble or think you are ungrateful for all they have done for you? If you spend too much, will they feel bad about their (cheaper) gifts to you? Will they return the gift or tuck it in a drawer never to be seen again, or will they feel obligated to display the gift in case you visit? Do they already have this gift, or did you buy them the same thing last year? Did somebody else already think of this gift and beat you to the punch?
Children and young adults aside, I think most people are not particular to holidays. I have often secretly resented having to stretch my budget for gift-giving to friends, the children of friends, my family, in-laws, co-workers, bosses, etc… It can be made worse when several holidays or birthdays occur in the same week or month (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s is a quadruple whammy to the budget for many families). I have dreaded my own birthdays for the stress I know they have afflicted on others (budgetary and otherwise), and knowing my gratitude can not match their sacrifice. Let’s face it. If I was that excited about a gift, or if it was that important to me, then I probably would have bought it already.
Consider the office workers who either barely know, or barely like, their boss but are inclined to pander compliments on birthday cards filled with generic non-substantive prose (“Have a great one!”; “Happy B-day!”…even though the card already implies that…, or my favorite—the simple, nondescript signature of someone whose face will not be remembered when the card is dug out of a box ten years later). I know some people will protest, but I firmly believe the boss does not really care about the office gift, the office party, or getting older as the life he dreamed of disappears into the career void he probably accepted over following his dreams. The employees, mostly, do not really care either. Employees are pressured to share their money for a collective gift that will likely be unappreciated, except in false graciousness by the boss—“Thank you everybody; I have always wanted a…one of these… things. That’s exactly why… I… never bought one.”
It seems trite to point out the money the employees pitched in was earned by sacrificing time out of their lives to pander to the whims of the boss and his peers. That is not gift enough?!? Are we bosses so vain we require a material token of worship on top of taking their very lives from them? I do not accept that or want it over my head. I do not want gifts from my employees. I employ them to make money for me in exchange for helping them make money for themselves. It is insane that I should then expect them to spend their money on me.
I am sure many employees who are genuinely friends with their bosses do give thoughtful gifts. The same is true of family and friends, but it is, to me, shameful this sort of obligatory worship is required on top of whatever we do to express gratitude, camaraderie, or kinship every day. Setting aside that holidays like birthdays should be deeply personal and private affairs, why should anyone else know (or care) on what day I was born? It is really only a matter between me and my parents–and frankly, I am not that interested to be reminded each year of how I came to be born.
I say by conforming to the ideology of birthdays and holidays, we let a very large and out-of-control media machine dictate how we live our lives.
Celebrating birthdays and holidays obligates me to allocate time for Love and Family the same way I make time for tasks such as laundry and buying groceries. Should I let Hallmark and Walmart mandate when and how I show affection or appreciation for others? Should I let a national jewelry chain declare how much money sufficiently shows my love for my companion—is it 3 months salary? If I only spend 1 month’s salary, does that mean I only love my mate one-third as much as I should?
This system of blind tradition diminishes precious time to being no more than mandatory social proceedings. I resent being told when and how to love others, and how much is an acceptable amount of my hard-earned money to spend on someone. I resent being told how much time I am expected to spend proving my love in worship of other people. Why should I celebrate a birthday instead of a birthmonth or a birthyear? Maybe I can decide how much time I wish to spend celebrating somebody’s life, on my own, and why on earth would it only be one day, once per year?
In short, I resent assumed control of my life. Everyone should.
Because I care for my family and friends, I wish them to be successful. I wish to see them enjoy the rewards of their hard work by spending their precious money and time on themselves, as they see fit.
A MARKETING MEDIA MACHINE
Holidays and birthdays in this context are a sham to fleece pockets and swindle people of what they have legitimately earned. Businesses and marketing media push holidays and birthdays to promote their profitability. They have no interest in protecting yours. However, if I save up and buy for myself what I want when I can afford it, and if I do not obligate others to buy things to please me, then everyone’s profitability is protected. I get what I want (because I have more of my money to spend on myself instead of buying gifts for others). Others get what they want (because they have more of their own money to spend on things that are most important to them without having to buy me and everyone else gifts). Businesses get what they want (the money keeps coming in, and even better, businesses can focus on creating and marketing things people really want instead of the hordes of plastic junk tchotchkes that fill stores every season–who really needs, and is hoping somebody buys them, an electric tie rack?).
When your time and money belong to you, and my time and money belongs to me, nothing more is expected or required of anyone… as it should be.
BESIDES, WHAT ARE WE REALLY CELEBRATING?
Most people and businesses do not know the origin of the holidays they are celebrating or promoting (or, let’s be honest, pushing). The public is willingly conned through inducement of guilt and status discrimination in the name of altruism, for the profit of one party—whoever is pushing the event.
Personally, I would rather not spend time with friends or family who insist on “caring” for me by making me share in a cult dictated by something they never sought to understand. Think about this… if you really cared for someone, would you expect to trade trinkets whenever Target runs a bunch of commercials, or would you instead plead with the person you care about to keep the pay she earned rather than spend it frivolously on gifts you probably do not want or need? I wish my friends and family preferred to spend their hard-earned money on themselves and would allow me to enjoy watching them relish in the fruits of their own success, rather than giving their pay to me. What could make me happier than watching my loved ones enjoy their own success? I will take that over the electric tie-rack, another bottle of cologne, or a pair of plaid socks and matching underwear any day.
It is rare to meet people who understand the actual origin or meaning behind a given holiday. It is rare because people who learn the history of holidays often choose not to celebrate a holiday once they realize what they are actually endorsing.
Birthdays, for example, are supposed to be a celebration of the day a person is born. Of course, people are born long before they exit the womb of their mother. Forgiving that, at best a birthday is celebrating a random day when someone’s would-be parents probably had casual sex. Our parents had no intention of producing, specifically, the child or children they have (if they were hoping to produce a child at all).
To expect others to celebrate my birthday is essentially asking them to celebrate my parents’ young, and possibly stupid, act of casual sex.
Any other reason I can think to celebrate my birthday is narcissistic. Should anyone have to celebrate the fact I somehow managed to bumble my way this far through life without getting killed? Should I think I am so great, for no reason other than I have not stepped in front of a bus by accident, that everyone I have graced with my presence should be subjected to idol worship of me for at least one full day, every year?
I do not impose the expectation on anyone to celebrate my love of myself. I do not need them to validate my love for me. It saddens me, though, that we are taught it is wrong to love ourselves, and we are bullied into worshiping everyone else.
IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM… THEY’LL BEAT YOU.
Nonetheless, many friends, family, and acquaintances will insist on wishing me well on my birthday and other holidays. Often, there will be some trickery to have me acknowledge a holiday against my will, dismissing that it is MY WILL (“Just come for the family dinner—no one will mention it’s Thanksgiving to you, we promise…”; “I know you don’t celebrate Christmas, but… Merry Christmas!”; “Here is a hug–not because it’s your birthday or anything…it is just a random hug that happened to occur on the same day as your birthday, tee-hee…”).
I understand the sentiment and the desire to share affection for me, but I nonetheless consider this behavior bullying. I understand what people intend when they wish me Happy Birthday or Merry Christmas. Of course, they believe their intentions are loving, or even pious. However, forcing me to acknowledge birthdays and holidays is not an act of love. It disrespects my conscious value choices and dismisses my intelligence altogether. The intent may not be to insult me, but I am insulted.
No one likes to feel bullied.
I certainly understand why people like me are sometimes perceived as cold and insensitive for having strong moral fortitude. It is not always easy for me, either. However, it is, I think, the burden of becoming human—of seeing something which others choose to ignore because it is less difficult to live a dictated life than a consciously chosen one.
THE BURDEN OF BECOMING HUMAN
When I first chose my moral stance around holidays, I celebrated the birthdays and holidays of others, but dismissed my own. Celebrating holidays only for others, I thought, did not impose my values on them but still let them have their birthday cake and eat it too. I thought this was respectful to both their value system and mine. I learned there is a critical difference between our value systems, however. Unlike mine, the values of most people in this regard are not consciously selected. Their values are handed-down and accepted without investigation.
I think if a person can not logically defend his or her moral character, then it is not disrespectful if I, having deliberately chosen my moral code, do not acknowledge their lack of one. Clearly, there is no real Easter Bunny. I should not have to pretend there is but I also do not have to point out the logical fallacies of a child who believes in the bunny.
Still, I came to realize that for me to celebrate the birthdays and holidays of others (but not my own) ultimately violates the values of both systems.
I am not concerned about violating a fake value system. If I choose to accept the values of my acquaintances and family, though (meaning I celebrate their birthdays but do not allow them to celebrate mine), then it leads to inducement of guilt and unfairness for them. I find people feel it is not fair when you buy them gifts but do not allow them to buy you gifts. Thus, it violates their social premise (everybody gives to everybody). Quickly, the door to a creeping acceptance of their system is forced open. They feel compelled to provide, somehow, gifts or favors in return for my gifts.
The problem is the bullying never stops in this system. It can not stop because we are well-trained to feel guilty about receiving without giving in return.
A violation occurs on my side, as well, because I accept the bullying (I still do, sometimes, because it is simply too taxing to fight it on all fronts, all the time). It is so ubiquitous I must eventually allow small tokens of appreciation, if for no reason other than to relieve family and friends of their sense of debt. This means indirect submission to the bullying on my part, and again, opens the door to creeping acceptance.
There is another difference regarding trying to uphold my values while not violating theirs. The difference is I do not bully others to accept my values. I do not insist people stop celebrating their birthdays and holidays if I do not celebrate mine. I do not push my philosophy onto others; in fact, I am typically reluctant to explain my choices, except in brief quips to move a conversation forward, or in essays like this. Most people are not that interested (it is too much effort to stand against a tsunami of tradition).
It is interesting to me, however, that in the broadly accepted system of piousness, it is okay to bully me into following the whims of others, but in the deliberately chosen values of my philosophy, I do not demand the religious or altruistic to check their belief in holidays or God (Allah, Vishnu, Jehovah, whomever) at the door when they visit me. I do not demand or expect a token gift of worship if they happen to visit on the day I was born, however many years ago that may have been and whether they were actually at my birth. There is an irony to the preaching of togetherness, kinship, and tolerance by those doing the most bullying.
Of course, I recognize the challenge clear and logical thinking poses. To be fair, I took more than 30 years to come to these very basic conclusions and guidelines I now use to remind me (how) to live. That said, birthdays, holidays, ritualistic and religious traditions deserve to be tested and judged.
It is up to each man to bear the burden of becoming human or walk blindly into tradition and circumstance.
Happy (_____)day to me.