Avarice

By Theresa Wells

This is not your usual feel-good Christmas article. It’s not about Santa Claus, or reindeer, or presents under the tree. This is about the opposite of goodwill, and generosity, and the Christmas spirit. This article is about that age-old sin known as avarice – more commonly known as greed.

Recently two new video gaming systems were released. These were hotly anticipated items, and many people were very excited. Just prior to the actual release individuals began posting these items for sale on Facebook – and on occasion with a startling mark-up. These game systems were being offered for sale at profits of $800 or more. It was, some said, simple capitalism, the law of supply and demand. Others said it was none of their business what kind of profit others were trying to make, but I disagree with both of those opinions. This was an example of capitalism gone wild and wrong, and greed affects all of us in the end.

Part of the reason we accept cheap goods made by child labourers in sweatshops around the world is our greed. At the end of the day we are okay with that cheap t-shirt because it saved us some cash, even if it means the last person who held it was being paid peanuts to sew it in a dark, dingy, firetrap of a sewing factory. We are so greedy that when businesses begin to pay the producers fairly for such goods we turn away and spend our money at the stores that sell it much cheaper. It’s simple capitalism, we say – but in the end it hurts others in our world, because once again it is based on our greed.

Does a profit of $800 on a gaming system hurt us? Perhaps not directly – but I think such examples of avarice hurt our spirit. Do you recall the stories after the flooding in southern Alberta when some retailers began jacking up the price of bottled water? Simple capitalism, you could say, the law of supply and demand – and another example of greed rearing that ugly head.

The entire episode reminded me of a Christmas about twelve years ago, when Furbies were the hot gift item. I managed to track some down in a northern store in a remote fly-in reservation where they did not care about the Furbie. I managed to convince the storeowner to ship me an entire case, twenty of the hideous little furry things. I wanted one for my daughter, and I decided I would sell the rest.

Furbies were impossible to find in my little town. They were being desperately sought after, and dozens of parents were seeking them to fulfill lists for Santa. I decided to do what any reasonable person would do, finding themselves with a surplus of an item that others were simply desperate to have – I sold them for exactly what I paid for them.

I recall the first person that called me after I had spread the word that I had them, and her shock that I was charging the standard retail price for the Furbie. She told me I could demand more and almost certainly get it from desperate parents who didn’t want to face crying disappointed children on Christmas morning.

That isn’t how my world works, you see. I am no extortionist or tycoon looking to exploit the desperate needs of others. That sort of avarice is how we end up with a world of sweatshops and child labour. That sort of avarice is how we accept that some in our world earn pennies for creating our little luxuries. That sort of avarice flies in the face of everything this season of giving, and kindness, and generosity of spirit means.

I sold out of the Furbies within a day. Twenty children woke up to their beloved new toy on Christmas morning, and twenty sets of parents smiled because not only had they been able to fulfill Santa’s promise they hadn’t had to sell their soul or car to do so. There was no financial profit gained – but there is a profit in this world that has far more power than money.

It is so very easy to accept avarice. “It’s just capitalism!” we cry, or defend it by saying that someone, somewhere, is “stupid” enough to pay that amount and therefore asking it is justified. But those words and that justification rings hollow in this world, and especially at this time of year when we see that sometimes greed is just greed, and that those who engage in it perpetuate a cycle that in this world ends in poverty, pain, and the disillusionment of the human spirit.

I said at the beginning that this is not a Christmas article, but in the end it is. You see what I have described here is the opposite of what we treasure most about this time of year – and sometimes we need to look into the dark to find the light. Look into your own heart and take heed of what you find there, and if you find avarice lurking then perhaps it is time to revisit what Christmas truly means – and find your spirit once again.

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